Isn’t It Time to Face the Heart of Darkness Beneath Our Facade of Affluence?

Dear Reader,

The following is a continuation of my blog series based on my book The Midnight Hour: A Jungian Perspective on America’s Pivotal Moment. If you are just now picking up on the series, you might start with the Introduction: Welcome to the Challenges of Change.

I hope that it will help you, as writing it has helped me, to find a candle to contribute to your light.

Whether you agree with me or not, I hope my work helps you clarify your own position, both within and to the chaotic times surrounding us. Above all, I hope it helps you create a new vision of the future and a new hope that draws you to commit to it.

Bud Harris
Asheville, North Carolina


The Midnight Hour:
A Jungian Perspective on America’s Pivotal Moment

Chapter 6: Isn’t It Time to Face the Heart of Darkness
Beneath Our Facade of Affluence?

a dark Wall St.

 

Our humanity is our burden, our life. We need not battle for it; we need only do what is infinitely more difficult—that is, accept it. —James Baldwin

I am staggered to realize that we have lost a central pillar in the American dream. On the surface I would say that this loss means too many of us have lost our confidence in our ability to earn a steady, respectable living. But down deep in the tribal soul of my cultural unconscious, I know that I need to feel like I am valuable because I am working at something that contributes to the world I live in. And so do most people. Shortly before his assassination, Martin Luther King Jr. assured the garbage workers in Memphis, Tennessee, that they had dignity because they worked, were self-responsible, and made a contribution to society.

We all need to feel competent at what we are doing, that we are building and living lives that are valued, and that we are part of a community, connected to other people. These factors are major contributors to a satisfying life. They also shelter the promise that we can earn a better life and that we and our children can thrive in society. Without the above possibilities, we begin to lose our sense of self-worth, dignity, and belonging to our society—and we lose faith in ourselves as worthy human beings.

Powerful forces of change, innovation, and greed have swept over our world while we in the illusion that things are or will be getting better have been politically asleep at the wheel. When I look back on the business my partner and I founded, which I left over four decades ago to pursue a new vocation, I remember it as a business I loved. Developing it had been a risky, exciting adventure, and it provided employment and needed goods to people at affordable prices. I am still proud of this period in my life. But only recently have I become deeply disturbed to realize that due to many of our plants and mills moving out of this country my business would have disappeared out from under me within a few years if I had stayed in it. My overfocus on my future and my preoccupation with the illnesses in my family contributed to my losing sight of the forces taking over a part of the world I cared a great deal about. I was also blind as to how these forces were violating some of my deepest values.

In the shadow-land of my soul, I have known, as have most of us, that industries have been shutting down and moving overseas for decades. Merciless downsizing and restructuring have become common. These are economic earthquakes that have generated hard consequences as people have experienced the American dream turning into a nightmare. In these devastating situations, people lose their jobs, identities, communities, and security. Moreover, people who keep their jobs face decreasing pensions and health insurance benefits. All too often they are also left with the fear they will be next. Furthermore, more and more workers, including highly skilled ones, are becoming contract employees. They generally have few to no employee benefits or job security. Our workforce today, including many professionals and academics, lives in an ongoing climate of fear—and this group also contains my children and their families.

From factory and service workers to upper-management people, jobs are threatened and insecure, which means one’s whole way of life feels like it is built on sand. In other words, one’s identity, source of meaning, purpose and community has no secure foundation. As a consequence, the towns supporting many of today’s industries and businesses can become impoverished overnight if and when the businesses pull out. It is not hard to understand why people in all of the above circumstances can vote in anger, seemingly against their own best interests, when in reality they are voting against a government and a field of politicians, both of which they feel have betrayed them and have no interest in their well-being. It is little wonder that many people are filled with rage covering their fear and despair. There is a chamber in the cells of my shadow where I agree with them.

Recently I watched Oliver Stone’s 1987 movie Wall Street for the first time in years. The movie reminded me of the greed and ruthlessness that can and often does possess venture capitalism. The movie does a dramatic job of showing how players in this game pitch what they are doing as being good for everyone. The movie ends with Bud, the young man who emulated the big-time player Gordon Gekko, having a change of conscience, turning state’s evidence, going to prison, and regaining the value and satisfaction of a clear conscience. Unfortunately, my conscience is not so clear because I have remained an indifferent citizen as this approach to business developed and became firmly rooted in our culture at the expense of many good people.

I watched Wall Street because a friend had told me how upset he was at what the venture capitalists were doing with the company he had founded and that they had purchased from him. At the same time, I was reading the book Bill Moyers Journal: The Conversation Continues. When I flipped over to his interview with Barbara Ehrenreich, the author and social commentator, I was knocked to my knees by Bill Moyers’ opening statement.  Here I quote several paragraphs directly from his book:

When the predators of high finance spot their prey, they can move with terrible swiftness. In 2007, Wall Street Journal reporter Ianthe Jeanne Dugan described how the private equity firm Blackstone Group swooped down on a travel reservation company in Colorado, bought it, laid off 841 employees, and recouped their entire investment in just seven months, one of the quickest returns on capital ever for such a deal.

Blackstone made a killing while ordinary workers were left to sift through the debris of their devastated lives. They sold their homes to make ends meet, lost their health insurance, took part-time jobs making sandwiches and coffee. That fall, Blackstone’s chief executive, Stephen Schwarzman, reportedly worth billions of dollars, rented a luxurious resort in Montego Bay, Jamaica, to celebrate the marriage of his son. The bill reportedly came to $50,000, plus thousands more to sleep 130 guests.  Add to that drinks on the beach, dancers and a steel band, marshmallows around the fire, and the following day an opulent wedding banquet with champagne, jazz band, and a fireworks display that alone cost $12,500. Earlier in the year Schwarzman had rented out the Park Avenue Armory in New York (his thirty-five-room apartment couldn’t hold the five hundred guests) to celebrate his sixtieth birthday. Cost: $3 million.

So? It’s his money, isn’t it? Yes, but consider this: the stratospheric income of private-equity partners is taxed at only 15 percent. That’s less than the rate paid by the struggling middle class. When Congress considered raising the rate paid on their Midas-like compensation, these financial titans sent their lobbyist mercenaries swarming over Washington and brought the “debate” to an end in less time than it had taken Schwarzman to fire 841 workers.

Our ruling class had won another round in a fight that Barbara Ehrenreich has been documenting for years. After studying theoretical physics at Reed College and earning a doctorate from Rockefeller University, Ehrenreich joined a small nonprofit in the late 1960s, advocating for better health care for the poor. She began researching and writing investigative stories for the organization’s monthly bulletin and went on to journalistic prominence with articles and essays for Ms., Mother Jones, The Atlantic Monthly, and Harper’s Magazine, among others.

Ehrenreich reports on inequality in America by stepping into the real-life shoes of the people who experience it. For her bestselling book Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, she worked as a waitress, cleaning woman, and a Walmart sales clerk, testing what it’s like to live on $7 an hour. (Damned near impossible.) She went undercover again, looking for a white-collar job and writing about it in Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream. She saw so many professional people falling to the bottom rung of jobs that she launched an organization—United Professionals—to fight back against the war on the middle class “that is undermining so many lives.”

After reading Moyer’s article and talking to other people I thought, “My God, what are we coming to? Have we as a country lost our minds, our conscience, or both? No wonder the anger beneath the surface of our civility is breaking out in crime, violence, addiction, and reckless voting. Have I lost my conscience? No, I’ve had my head in the sand and by my indifference I have contributed to the evil in our landscape. I am a capitalist. I worked for a major corporation early in my life, started my own business, and still have my own practice. Though capitalism isn’t perfect I think it is the best economic system in the world and can offer the most opportunities to the most people. But when it loses its heart, and money and power become more important to its leaders than the good of our country and its people, then it has a devastating dark side.

Rebecca Solnit, another well-known writer and social commentator, compares capitalism as a creator of ongoing disasters to a child that hasn’t been potty-trained. We are left to clean them up like a frustrated mother or, to extend her analogy, to try to discipline the child to clean up after itself through legislation or protests. As much as I like this analogy and admire Ms. Solnit, I think she is understating the case. The dark side of capitalism is becoming more like a cholera epidemic that is calling for us to put a government in place that can continuously clean up and control an economic system that should be here to serve us and not to hold us hostage. At this point, with my head fully out of the sand, I have to ask:

Wouldn’t it be better if we recognized that in today’s complex world of communications, multinational corporations, and a very heterogeneous population, Americans don’t need to be entertaining the notion of less government? We need to focus strength, energy, and determination on creating good government.

Wouldn’t it be better to recognize that in the era of giant corporations a so-called “free market” is impossible? A government for the people is needed to insure people are more important than profits, especially short-term ones.

Wouldn’t it be better to recognize that the political stances supporting “free markets” are serving corporations and not we, the people—no matter how these corporations and their politicians pitch it?

Wouldn’t it be better if we remembered that we do have power? Communication, protesting, and voting are power!

Wouldn’t it be better if our government steered value-driven capitalistic forces  toward combating climate change?

And wouldn’t it be better if we remembered that the forces that want to undermine a government of the people, by the people, and for the people thrive on us believing that we don’t have enough power, that we can’t make a difference, so there is no reason to act?

Working together we can damn well change it all for the better.

* * * *

Forty thousand people lost their jobs in the late 1960s when the elevators in Chicago were automated. I was shocked to hear the brutal results of this step forward in “progress.” I heard these numbers from the conservative commentator William F. Buckley, on his TV show Firing Line. He then asked the question, “What are we going to do about that?” Since then, while automation and robotics have continued to replace humans, the answer is essentially, “Nothing!” Manufacturing, service industries, banking, retailing—you name it—are being swept by these trends. In our passivity, we have become desensitized and look at the people affected as numbers, statistics, and not as real human beings. But they are human beings, and they may be you. Experts predict that over 50 percent of future jobs are at risk. If not you, then surely your children, grandchildren, and their families will be dramatically affected. Stop and think about what it would mean to lose your financial security, your dignity, your identity, and your place in your community. We had better wake up fast or we are going to be creating hopeless, angry people by the tens of thousands.

In this case, other industrialized nations are doing a far better job of looking out for the dignity and well-being of their citizens than we are. And, once again, I must admit that I am ashamed of myself. This situation and the others I have written about remind me of the statement made by the twentieth-century theologian and ethicist Reinhold Niebuhr. He said, “Most evil is not done by evil people but by good people who don’t know what they are doing.”

Niebuhr is referring to “good people” who refuse to open their eyes and do not want to see. They do not want to unplug their ears and they do not want to listen. They do not want to have their thoughts ignited, and they do not want to think. Most of all they do not want to confront their shadows and society’s shadows because looking at themselves would disturb their illusions about themselves, that they are “good people” who are aware of and thinking about important things.

When I participate as a citizen in creating or allowing an economic system to diminish people and deny them the essentials of life’s necessities that would give them a chance, through hard work and devotion, to fulfill the promise of their sacred lives, then I am participating in creating a climate of evil. And make no mistake about it, the results of unmanaged change that can leave people feeling impotent, alienated, apathetic, and hopeless becomes the breeding ground for violence, addiction, and abusive relationships.

Daring to Wake Up

Nothing can be changed until it is recognized, fully faced, and accepted. We all need to look in the mirror and see how cold and heartless we have become in ignoring the well-being of our neighbors, our fellow countrymen, women, and, God forbid, our children. Once again, every other major industrialized nation has done a better job of providing safety nets and transition paths and respecting the dignity of its citizens than we have.

I am ashamed that our country is nowhere near being number one in taking care of our citizens—of each other. I am ashamed of my blindness and my silence as a citizen, my denial of what should have outraged me, and my failure to own my responsibility. I am afraid that I wanted our politicians to do a good job of running the country without bothering me. I should have known that is not democracy.

We who have been in our bubbles of denial and illusion need to be awakened to our repressed anger, like the bear in my dream, to give us the strength and determination to open our eyes and transform our government back into one that is of the people, by the people, and for the people. Outrage, struggle, and hope call for courage and action, and we must renew the soul and promise of America now and for the future.

The great statement by Abraham Lincoln in his Gettysburg Address on a blood-soaked battleground to a divided nation shows us that the true American spirit can find its highest values in our darkest times. In my mind, his words break down in the following way:

“Of the people” means making a continuous effort to pursue our highest values and potentials.

“By the people” means we must be fully engaged with our government as citizens who are doing their best to be informed, mature, and self-responsible.

“For the people” means being sure that our government is striving to support the well-being of every citizen.

My deepest values tell me that if I am indifferent to the people whose way of life, security, and dignity are being threatened, I am diminishing their humanity and robbing myself of my own. I have to ask, wouldn’t it be better if we created a government that helped manage these changes, that gave our citizens a safety net, and that supported their ability to feel secure in a lifetime that in the future might have numerous job changes? Wouldn’t it be better if we realized that doing these things was also the most economically sound path for our country in the long run?


The Midnight Hour: A Jungian Perspective on America's Current Pivotal Moment The above is Chapter 6 of my book The Midnight Hour: A Jungian Perspective on America’s Current Pivotal Moment.

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