‘War on Terrorism’

It is how you approach an issue that determines what you see.



(Click thumbnail to download 640×480 version to do with as you please)


It was no surprise that the right-wing response to Keith Olbermann’s Special Comment criticising Bush’s out of touch statements (lores version at C&L) would be both vociferous and personal. However, much to his credit, Olbermann acknowledged in his response to these personal attacks that a key principle in depth psychology was at play.

(Original at MSNBC, lores version at C&L)

It is perhaps instructive, that to the right-wing commentators, and the right-wing blogs, those terms should first evoke not the war-mongers of the Pentagon or the gun-men from Blackwater but U.S. troops.

“I cannot imagine that kind of evil knee-jerk reflex. I feel very sorry for those who have shown it.

It seems to me that these right-wingers have inadvertently shown their true colors, their instinctive hatred of and contempt for, these self-sacrificing Americans, who have been needlessly placed in harm’s way by these very commentators and the politicians they support.

They hear criticism of our nation’s collective conduct in Iraq, and immediately assume it’s the fault of the soldiers.”

Olbermann recognised that his critics were projecting their own subconscious hatred for US soldiers onto him, and then attacking him for carrying what is essentially their own shadow. In the words of depth psychologist, C. G. Jung:

“We still attribute to the other fellow all the evil and inferior qualities that we do not like to recognize in ourselves, and therefore have to criticize and attack him, when all that has happened is that an inferior “soul” has emigrated from one person to another. The world is still full of betes noires and scapegoats, just as it formerly teemed with witches and werewolves”

Those who fail to recognise they are subconsciously projecting their shadow on anyone they disagree with are often considered to be, in Jungian terms, not totally enlightened and self-realised:

Every person who is not totally enlightened and self-realised has an “ego” (that) is full of lower emotional poison (toward) its own ugliness and imperfection… it cannot acknowledge this ugliness in itself, because to do so would shatter the narcissistic illusion of its own wonderfulness and specialness, and confront it with its true nature. The result would be either madness or a spiritual self-judgement by which the ego is forced to confront its own negativity. Therefore, in order to maintain its own equilibrium, its own sanity in other words, as psychological defence mechanism, the ego has to constantly project its ugliness onto an appropriate scapegoat.

This is how they cope with their unacknowledged and repressed psychic contents, which can only be tolerated as hatred for another, for a pereceived enemy who has slighted them or their family or tribe or culture or ethnicity or nation or religion or ideology.

This happens everywhere, prejudice, bigotry, intolerance, xenophobia, fear and hatred of the “other” are universal. … Only one who has totally gone beyond the limitation of their finite self, and realised their identity with the Supreme, will no longer project their ego-ideal onto those they identify with, and their shadow onto all those they choose to scapegoat, whether out of prejudice picked up from parents or peers or social condition, or whether these are people who have slighted or insulted the object of ego-identification, or who even if they haven’t are paranoidly misinterpreted as wanting to or actually doing so.

Prolonged failure to acknowledge one’s shadow can lead to what Jung termed possession:

A term used to describe the identification of consciousness with an unconscious content or complex. The most common forms of possession are by the shadow and the contrasexual complexes, anima/animus. A man who is possessed by his shadow is always standing in his own light and falling into his own traps. Whenever possible, he prefers to make an unfavorable impression on others.

What sort of impression does this Olbermann critic prefer to convey?

According to Gerhard Wehr, those possessed by their shadow act out in the voice of the shadow without consciously choosing to do so and often without realizing this is happening. He mentions that mob psychology can make one particularly vulnerable to shadow projection. Psychology of the mob may be the best explanation for why those most likely to misinterpret criticism of the Bush administration as an attack on the troops, are the very same people who defend actions that would increase US soldiers’ exposure to danger and who refuse to support improvements in veteran benefits.

According to Wehr, an essential step towards the path to what Jung calls individuation, is to acknowledge when one is projecting or being possessed by one’s shadow, and refusing to let our personality be dominated by this. Many cultures have historically provided spiritual support for this journey through shared rituals. Many are starting to believe that modern western civilization fails to provide this much needed support. Perhaps all the scapegoating that pundits carry out night and day over mainstream media are a reflection of a society lacking in meaningful ritual. Through shadow projection visible enemies are conjured up so that the mob can commence a verbal stoning of the devil. It is as if the unindividuated have substituted their own inferior rituals as a release for a spiritual calling for inner reflection that they refuse to acknowledge and yet cannot ignore.

The sea cucumber is a very strange creature with a rather peculiar method of defending itself. When attacked it will auto-eviscerate, sometimes expelling its entire
digestive system as a defense mechanism.

According to the article, “Predator Defense Mechanisms in Shallow
Water Sea Cucumbers (Holothuroidea)
“, by Jessica A. Castillo of the University of California, Berkeley:

Immediately after evisceration, the sea cucumber rapidly crawled away from its intestines. This is an extremely effective defense behavior especially for predators that prefer to only eat part of the cucumber, such as fish or crustaceans (Francour, 1997). The predator is distracted by the intestines and the sea cucumber has a chance to escape, however this is an extremely high energy cost to the cucumber and that is probably why I only observed it after persistent agitation and removal of all Cuverian tubules.

The sea cucumber will eventually regenerate the lost organs if it finds a safe place where it will be left alone for a long enough time. In effect, it is a defence of last resort that relies on its enemies choosing the convenience of an easy meal over the effort of devouring the originating organism. But it would be insane for a civilized society to ever adopt such a strategy as a defense, now wouldn’t it?

(You need only watch the first half. The important bit is also shown here.)

According to the “logic” of Dick Morris, U.S. soldiers are being sent to Iraq so that insurgents can find an American to kill within easy reach, and so they won’t attack mainland USA. This is the “fight them over there so we don’t fight them here” mantra that the pro-war side forever repeats. This is typically followed with the “if we withdraw the troops the terrorists will follow us home” reasoning. For this to make any sense, the
pro-war side has to wish for a sufficiently high death rate among its soldiers otherwise, by their logic, the terrorists will get frustrated with not being able to kill enough Americans “just around the corner” and will start attacking the mainland instead.

What is particularly sad about Morris’s mention of preventing attacks on Wall Street by deploying Americans “within arms’ reach”, is the implied admission that the rich are using the poor as a human shield. Many US soldiers are poor young adults who were enticed by recruiters with promises of college tuition. Perhaps the wealthy pundits that frequent Fox News have done the same risk calculation as the sea cucumber. The poverty class recruits can be “regenerated” provided enough time has been bought by sacrificing them to our enemies. Stretching this spineless analogy even further, the warmongers are well advised to heed the following advice:

If the cucumber was stressed enough to eviscerate in your aquarium in the first place, chances are slim that conditions are ideal for them to regenerate their gut, either.

To drum up support for the Republicans in the final weeks before the US mid-term elections, George W. Bush has been holding “Victory 2006” rallies all across USA. Virtually every speech reiterates the same talking points and plays well to Republican audiences who tend to applaud in almost exactly the same places. Here is one excerpt:

“You do not create terrorism by fighting the terrorists. (Applause.) Iraq is not the reason the terrorists are at war with us. I would remind that Democrat that we were not in Iraq when the terrorists struck the World Trade Center in 1993, we were not in Iraq when they blew up the embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, we were not in Iraq when they blew up the USS Cole, and we were not in Iraq on September the 11th, 2001 when they killed nearly 3,000 of our citizens. (Applause.)”

(See also here and here for comparison.)
It is quite obvious that these compassionate conservatives are not applauding the terrorist attack that killed so many Americans. Rather they are showing their support for the view that Bush’s Middle East policy is not worsening terrorism, despite the views of the security agencies in both the US and the UK. Tony Blair parroted a similar talking point just weeks after the London bombings of 7th of July, 2005, when the government’s support for the America’s war in Iraq was being blamed for increasing the risk of terrorism in Britain. On 19 July 2005, Blair twice reminded the press of the obvious:

“Of course these terrorists will use Iraq as an excuse, they will use Afghanistan. September 11 of course happened before both of those things, and then the excuse was American policy, or Israel….As I say, how you try and put this together is extremely important, because September 11 of course happened before Iraq, before Afghanistan, and it was planned under the Presidency of President Clinton, not President Bush.”

This line of reasoning seems quite compelling: Since X happened before Y therefore should X happen again, Y cannot possibly be the cause. Those denying anthropogenic global warming, in spite of overwhelming supporting scientific evidence, often use a similar argument. During the medieval warming period, the climate warmed centuries before the industrially related rise in carbon dioxide, therefore the currently observed warming of the planet cannot possibly be caused by human activity. Unfortunately this line of reasoning is a logical fallacy that is easy to discover when one applies it to other domains and derives ridiculous conclusions:

  • London won the right to host the Olympics in 1908 and 1948, both of which happened before Lord Sebastian Coe was born. Hence London winning the 2012 Olympics bid was not helped by the efforts of Lord Coe.
  • Italy won the World Cup in 1934, 1938 and 1982, many years before Fabio Cannavaro played football for Italy, thus proving he doesn’t deserve any credit for Italy winning the 2006 World Cup.

Unlike Bush, Blair does at least acknowledge that US foreign policies predating 11 September, 2001 are often cited as “excuses” for terrorism, which makes his employment of the logical fallacy even weaker. But even if leaders were to accept some form of causal link between their foreign policy and terrorist activity, this does not automatically relinquish policy decisions to the whims of terrorists. Bad strategy should be discontinued because it is wrong, and not because an extremist objects. However, the war in Iraq was sold to the electorate on the basis that it would reduce the terrorist threat. The evidence that the citizens have made a bad buy is becoming difficult to ignore.

Recent experiments have given scientists some insight into why the 1918 flu virus was so effective at attacking the infected host.

Dr John Kash, lead author of the study and assistant professor of microbiology at the University of Washington, said: “What we think is happening is that the host’s inflammatory response is being highly activated by the virus, and that response is making the virus much more damaging to the host.

“The host’s immune system may be overreacting and killing off too many cells, and that may be a key contributor to what makes this virus more pathogenic.”

An over-reacting immune system, responding to the initial viral infection, was effectively doing much more damage to the host without ridding it of the virus. Thus we are faced with the counter-intuitive notion that suppressing the immune system may actually improve ones chance for survival. Indeed, the 1918 epidemic was most devastating to young adults; that is, those with the healthiest immune response.

The consequences of an over-reactive and mis-directed defense can, in effect, amplify the damage of the initial incursion. An incorrect analysis of the terrorist threat inevitably results in civilisations turning their own defenses against their citizens and friends. An inevitable result is that innocents are tortured or killed, while enemies thrive. Leaders, and the electorate from whom they derive their power, are faced with the same counter-intuitive choice that suppressing ones own defenses will yield better results in the war on terrorism. Security expert, Bruce Schneier, commented on the recent liquid explosives plot:

“Our politicians help the terrorists every time they use fear as a campaign tactic. The press helps every time it writes scare stories about the plot and the threat. And if we’re terrified, and we share that fear, we help. All of these actions intensify and repeat the terrorists’ actions, and increase the effects of their terror.”

And those fears allow opportunistic attacks by those promising to protect us as was recently demonstrated by the recent passing of the detainee bill in the US Congress – a law that gives the US president the power to define what types of torture violate the Geneva Conventions, apply these redefinitions retroactively, widen applicability of indefinite detention to include American citizens, and revoke habeus corpus for any non-citizens perceived to be an enemy of the state. The state sponsored security apparatus that is now enshrined in American law is reminiscent of that employed against the desaparecidos yet a significant number of US citizens invoke the fear of terrorism as the key justification for their support of these measures. Small wonder that many progressive commenters liken the recent curtailment of key freedoms to the events in ancient times that led to the fall of the Roman Republic. It is easy to nitpick at the flaws of such historical comparisons, as the rightwing bloggers are so quick to point out, however one should not be over eager to dismiss the biological analogues. Our collective lives may depend on it.