One rationalization we use to deny the impact of what is happening to us now is to rely on the weak realization that sufferings and injustices are always present in each age. So what is the big deal about our time? What is the "wrong" I am talking about that is any different from other times and places?
Let me try to describe it like this. We may use the metaphors of "the perfect storm" or "critical mass." But I am going to call it a "syndrome," meaning "a group of signs and symptoms that occur together and characterize a particular abnormality or condition." (Merrian-Webster) Speaking psychologically, we could also call it a "collective complex," meaning a cluster of images and ideas held together by a strong emotion that is capable of disrupting our conscious life and possessing individuals and groups, leading to irrational thought and behavior that may turn bizarre and destructive. Out of this condition come the most extreme ideologies, religious beliefs, political movements, and idiosyncratic expressions -- any of which may pass as reasonable and justifiable during the time of possession.
So, with that description of a syndrome or collective complex, I turn to what has "possessed" us today. I call it "the syndrome of estrangement." This experience of estrangement thrives on its internal organs of anxiety, alienation, and anger, which together lead to a state of psychic possession and the defense mechanism of projection.
I will briefly describe each of these.
Anxiety. Unlike fear, which has a specific focus, anxiety is a condition of unseen stress that leads us to worry, dread, mistrust, and harbor a dark sense of foreboding. Anxiety causes deep suffering because we do not know ways to alleviate the suffering. We cannot "get our minds around it;" we cannot imagine what relief would look like. As I will describe later, the anxiety may be due to a foreboding sense of overwhelm. Whatever it is bothering us is too large, too great for us to be able to hold it, and in fact we may dread the prospect so much that we do not face whatever may be lurking or lunging toward us.
Consider, for example, the phenomena of global warming. The prospects of natural habitats destroyed, ocean-front cities flooded, the onslaught of tens of thousands of refugees seeking higher ground, and the destruction of countless species -- these potential scenarios that threaten our planet also threaten our sense of familiarity and safety in a world we thought we would treasure forever. And it is altogether likely that underneath our anxiety over the climate change is a much deeper anxiety concerning the growing awareness of finite resources, to say nothing about the finitude and vulnerability of planet earth itself.
Alienation. Alienation is a state of separation from people, groups, institutions, and/or objects. We think of descriptions such as breach, turning away, breaking off, disaffection, and rupture. This last word, rupture, catches not only the state of affairs but the mood as well in which some kind of betrayal has been experienced, severing ties of commitments.
Ruptured -- this describes so well our broken relationships in spheres of life we had come to trust and depend upon. In the past ten to twenty years, we have suffered broken trust with many if not most of our banks, our government, our medical facilities, our religious groups, our politicians, our educational institutions, and our corporations. Worse perhaps even still are the ruptures between family members and old friends as all of us have been drawn into the political polarizations championed by the "talking heads" of radio and television and the money devouring televangelists of fundamentalist megachurches.
Anger. As I teach people who visit me in my consulting room, anger is a secondary emotion. It seems to be primary because of its raw intensity. But it is secondary because it always follows the experience of some kind of pain: a physical blow, a psychological slight or put-down, a religious assault, an act of betrayal, an overwhelming disappointment, an event that overwhelms. Granted, in those cases where the anger turns inward, we become depressed, but otherwise we have been created to protect ourselves when we have been hurt by experiencing the arousal of the autonomic nervous system that prepares us to fight or to flee. Hopefully, where one is nurtured by psychological and spiritual health, the anger is modulated and directed toward peaceful resolution of conflict.
But in certain cases, peaceful resolution is not possible because the state of mind is one of possession. I will describe this more fully later, but now I want only to reference the anger that has seized the world because of our deep anxiety and alienation. All that I described above taxes our autonomic nervous system. The sympathetic sub-system that alerts us to danger needs time and safety to return to a normal baseline level of arousal where the parasympathetic sub-system can operate and support us within the state of mind in which we think clearly and feel with openness the rich vastness of our being, rather than to be trapped within the emotions of terror, hate, envy, resentment, and overwhelm.
Possession. This last state of being when we become trapped within a syndrome or collective complex may be referred to as a state of possession. In such a state, I "am not myself." I cannot think or feel as I normally would, I act and feel as if I am someone else, I am dominated and controlled by some mood or spirit.
For example, the "spirit" of estrangement within the syndrome I have been describing is made up of a psychic whirlwind of anxiety, alienation, and anger. One's mind is clouded by this mental and emotional experience that entraps the person who then regresses to a more primitive level of human functioning, marked by mistrust and aggression. It is here that our demonic self emerges. By demonic self I mean the mood and state of mind arising from the cthonic depths of our personality, bathed in the blood of human conquest and domination.
Projection. But rather than look within at one's own demonic self, it is projected upon some other person or group. The discomfort one feels, the difficulty one experiences, or the impasse one has reached may bring that person to the point of blaming others rather than facing the more difficult task of looking within or looking together at the stymied state of conflict.
And when one's own shadow side is projected upon another person, that individual may be seen as the devil himself. This projection upon others may be used to justify the acts of evil by which persons are demonized and dehumanized with murderess acts of cruelty.
Thus is evil turned loose in the world. Such is the sad state of estrangement in our world today, fragmented and polarized by anxiety, alienation, and anger.