Introduction to the Papers

Tom Singer, M.D.

These are the papers from the fifth San Francisco C. G. Jung Institute Presidential election year conference which convened on October 14 and 15, 2016 and which I co-organized with Steve Zemmelman, Chair of the Extended Education Committee. In case your memory is sometimes as porous as mine, in 2000 it was Al Gore vs. George Bush.  In 2004, it was John Kerry against George Bush.  In 2008, it was Barack Obama against John McCain and in 2012 it was Barack Obama against Mitt Romney.  In reviewing the text of the 2008 brochure of our Third Conference when Obama was running against John McCain, I was reminded that the previous 8 years (2000-2008) had been marked by the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center, the destruction of New Orleans by Katrina, the invasion of Iraq by the United States, the spreading threat of Islamic fundamentalism, and the near collapse of the world economy at the end of President Bush’s second term when his approval rating was at a historic low. By the standards of those eight years between 2000- and the end of 2008, the past eight years with Obama as President seem relatively benign. And yet, no election year in recent memory has been as ugly, insubstantial and terrifying as 2016. Perhaps many of you will remember the infamous Reverend Wright of the 2008 election who may finally be right when he predicted:  "the Chickens have come home to roost.” But, whether or not the last eight years have been good compared to the previous eight, we are living in what Christopher Hedges has characterized in the title of one of his books as "The Empire of Illusion:  The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle”. The rational mind is challenged in the extreme and we need all the help we can get from those who explore the non rational mind to make some sense out of what is going on.

Everywhere we look, we are confronted with seemingly insoluble, urgent problems that defy rational and humane resolution:  climate change, the growing discrepancy between rich and poor, including those who flock to Trump in the hope that his promise for change will halt their downward drift, the influence of money on political and cultural life, the virtual shutdown of Congress, immigration trauma on an unimaginable scale, racism, sexism, consumerism, terrorism, war—to name just a few ingredients in our cauldron of corrosive conflicts. Has the world always been this endangered with every generation imagining itself on the brink? In such times, politics, cultural values and the soul of both individuals and groups get inextricably mixed up with one another and perhaps at no time is this more highlighted than in the garish glare of the uninterrupted attention during modern American presidential elections.

The seeds for this fifth conference were first planted in a small gathering in Bolinas in 1999. About forty people met at the funky Bolinas Rod and Boat Club over a stormy weekend to discuss what we later called “The Vision Thing" which resulted in a published collection of papers about the interface of myth, politics, and psyche in the world. Some seventeen years later at this conference, we found ourselves talking about many of the same things —though it feels as though the state of the nation and our ability to engage in a substantive discourse have devolved far more than they have evolved. Three of us presenting at this conference, Andrew Samuels, Betty Sue Flowers, and myself, also presented at that original Bolinas meeting and our first Presidency conference—and I can say with certainty that we have solved nothing, but we have not stopped trying to understand what the heck is going on. I hope these papers will be fruitful for all who take the time to read them—if not in solving anything, at least in bringing to light some of the profound issues that effect all of us. The purpose of the conference and these papers is to surprise, engage, trouble, stimulate, challenge, anger, and perhaps even delight at times—and mostly I hope that they contribute in some small way to the development of what Joe Henderson called a "psychological attitude" in matters of politics, psyche and culture. With the help of John Beebe’s recent work on cultural attitudes we can think of a "psychological attitude" as a perspective that honors both the inner and outer world of the individual and the community and that combines empathy, integrity, and camaraderie—the ability to relate to and feel with others, the ability to tell the truth, and the ability to build bridges with people of different points of view. The psychological attitude that we would like to see in ourselves, our fellow citizens and our leaders, recognizes and accepts that in political discourse there is more than one way to go about tending to our common interdependence. A psychological attitude also has a keen awareness of the powerful forces that dwell in the psyche of individuals and groups that would antagonize and divide people if left to their own devices.

For those interested, the conference flyer is available here with a wonderful Rauschenberg image framing it.