So, first, the image from Germany. It is not a pretty one, disturbing even ninety-four years later. But you must remember how brutally the Germans were treated by the Allies following the collapse of Germany and the end of World War I. Humiliated, starved, bankrupt, without the support of economic means for recovery, the land and the people were left broken, attended primarily by their devils while the world watched.
Here is the image. It comes to us from the observing pen of D.H. Lawrence, a "Letter from Germany," which he wrote March 1924, while traveling the "heavy, ponderous round hills of the Black Forest." Lawrence notes the "dreary fields," the "smashed houses," and says this:
The moment you are in Germany, you know. It feels empty and somehow
menacing. So must the Roman soldiers have watched those black, massive
round hills with a certain fear, and with the knowledge that there were at
their own limit. A fear of the invisible natives. A fear of the invisible life
lurking among the woods. A fear of their own opposite.
__ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ ... .
At night the place is almost dark, economizing light. Economy, economy,
economy -- that too becomes an insanity. Luckily the government keeps bread
But at night you feel strange things stirring in the darkness, strange feelings
stirring out of this still-unconquered Black Forest. You stiffen your backbone
and listen to the night. There is a sense of danger. It is not the people. They
don't seem dangerous. Out of the very air comes a sense of danger, a queer,
bristling feeling of uncanny danger. (Phoenix: The Posthumous Papers, 1936,
Lawrence is describing so well the feeling of fear when it enters our lives, either because we no longer feel safe due to the perception of an obvious threat, or because of a feared threat we cannot even name because no perception of it exists. Like a child at night feels unsafe, fearful that somewhere in the room -- under the bed, in the closet, somewhere -- something very dangerous is lurking!
Each of us is susceptible to such fears. The reason is because fear is archetypal and the bumper sticker says it very well: "Just because I am paranoid does not mean they are not out to get me." Sanity and insanity lurk very close together here, do they not? This is because fear is one of our primal instincts. How could it not be? When a child is born, leaving the (generally) hospitable, safe womb of the mother, it falls into a harsh existence of strange sights, sounds, sensations. And there is no retreat, no going back, only forward into a mysterious and uncertain future.
So we come into the world afraid, and we face death afraid. In between, there are encounters with fear, some of them fact-based, and some of them neurotic. Some of them are quite personal, and some of them are collective, experienced in groups or even nations, as was true in the Germany described by Lawrence in his letter.
Now I will give you another image of fear, closer to us in time and geography. The New York Times ran an article on April 25, 2018. The article, "So the South's White Terror Will Never Be Forgotten," written by Brent Staples, details the opening of The National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama. Erected on the six-acre Memorial grounds is the Legacy Museum, housing 800 steel pillars hanging from the ceiling with the names of more than 4,400 African-Americans, mostly men, but included as well are the names of women and children, family members of men who were sought for so-called "crimes" against whites.
The events would sometimes be advertised in local papers as "lyhnching bees" or Negro barbecues." Mr. Staples' article begins with the chilling description of the "carnivals of death where African-American men, women, and children were hanged, burned, and dismembered as cheering crowds of whites looked on . ..." This, Staples goes on to say, was "the cornerstone of white supremacist rule in the Jim Crow-era South."
This "Jim Crow-era South" refers to a climate of terror int eh Southern United States when state as well as local laws enforced racial segregation. The name "Jim Crow" was created by a white actor, Thomas D. Rice, who toured the region with a minstrel show, using the stage name of Jim Crow to portray the newly-freed slaves as dull-witted, lazy, leacherous individuals who could not be trusted. This caricature appealed to the former slave owners suffering themselves from defeat, hardship, and fear that the African-Americans would retaliate for their years of slavery and mistreatment. These discriminatory laws ruled the southern states from the period between the end of "Reconstruction" in 1877 until the 1960's.
It was an era of fear in the southern United States. You can imagine the terror felt and experienced by the African-Americans during that time. Fueled by ignorance, the fear cascaded into layers of prejudice, hatred, and mistrust that dominated a region and impacted the entire nation. How can that be? How can the human species so capable of genius, generous in outreach, and compassionate in sickness, tragic loss, and death -- how ca this species of creatures behave so abominably toward others in their fellow creatures. We are flawed in this manner, there is no question. We are capable of exemplary acts of heroism but also of despicable acts of barbarism.
The danger is a phenomenon we call mass hysteria, collective hysteria, moral panic, mass psychogenic illness. It is a disorder in which fear arises within a group or nation and takes possession of the people. The ruling cause is fear, arising from a specific perceived threat or from some vague sense of danger that may be projected upon other persons, groups, or objects. The symptoms are the diminishment of rationality, the demonization of the perceived cause of the threat, and violent actions to subdue the threat.
In my field of analytical psychology, we call this phenomenon a collective complex. It is a psychological complex because it draws its energy from the unconscious depths and is ruled by the archetype of fear. And it is collective because it has spread from the individual to a group. Carl Jung describes the phenomenon like this:
In my view, this happens when the life of a large social group or of a
nation undergoes a profound change of a political, social, or religious
nature. Such a change always involves an alteration of the psychological
attitude. Incisive changes in history are generally attributed to external
causes. It seems to me, however, that external circumstances often merely
sense an occasion for a new attitude to life and the world, long prepared
in the unconscious to become manifest. (Collected Works, Vol. 8, para.594)
By "new attitude," Jung does not mean it is necessarily good or appearing for the first time. He is referring, rather, to a change in the over-all values and direction of a people at a given moment. Something arises from the depths and seizes control, often under the sway of a "leader" who gives voice to what is bubbling in the unconscious of the people.
And so we ask, why are we now living in a world of fear? What has happened to us? What deep forces within us are stoking the fires of anger, prejudice, and violence? What is the meaning of this nightmare we are living?