Thursday, November 09, 2006

Elections, Group Fantasy, and Human Sacrifice

One of the reasons why most MSM political writing is so shallow, is that it is analogous to a person with no knowledge of the unconscious writing about the mind. Such a person will necessarily place undue emphasis on conscious motivations, when for most people, the conscious mind is a fleeting jumble of patchwork improvisations compared to the more enduring patterns the unconscious mind. This applies both individually and collectively, for as I have stated in the past, a culture or subculture is like a public neurosis, while a neurosis is like a private culture. Religion, in its proper sense, is (among other obvious reasons) here to rescue us from the foolishness of culture -- to provide a key to eternity within the transient productions of time.

One of Freud’s central discoveries was that the unconscious mind operates along the lines of an entirely different kind of logic than does the conscious mind. Among other things, it is timeless, in the sense that various enduring complexes and fixations operate outside the personal will and repeat themselves in an ultimately self-defeating way.

But from the standpoint of these mind parasites, the job of the ego is simply to rationalize and spin a sort of false continuity over the various inconsistencies that result from vertical splits within the unconscious mind. This is why most people are so patently illogical, in particular, intellectuals. Furthermore, this explains why no one is so prone to illusions and magic than the intellectual, as they are like someone who (using the symbols in my book) superimposes a grid of knowledge (k) over the noumenal reality (O), and then confuses the map with the territory. There is no idea so foolish that it is not taught at one of our elite universities.

In reality, the local ego floats within a sea of nonlocal consciousness extending both “up” and “down” (please don’t be like an intellectual and take the map literally). Now, there is no question that we exist in time and that the human being evolved within time. The ego is an adaptation to this temporal existence, but it is only an adaptation. All traditions agree that a central task of the spiritual life is to dis-identify with this illusory local and contingent being and to become aware of the greater reality of which it is only a local manifestation.

However, things will go seriously awry if you merely loosen the bonds of the ego and wade into the unconscious unawares, for you may well simply open the gates of hell, as the history of religion often demonstrates. In reality, the Islamists are hardly “religious.” Rather, they are “unconscious.” However, what most westerners do not understand -- perhaps because of the pride and prestige of the intellect -- is that they are also serious intellectuals who have a clearly articulated ideology. As I have had occasion to mention many times, we are in a triangulated global war between three ideologies, two of which are naively steeped in unconscious fantasy (Islamism and secular leftism). While everyone is subject to unconscious motivations, the classical liberalism of American conservatism is rooted in a far more realistic vision of human nature than any of its competitors.

Obviously we are seeing an abundance of analysis of the recent election, but to me, most of it is about as illuminating as an intellectual patient’s rationalizations of his self-defeating behavior. Intellectuals are just like anyone else, only worse, in that they do not so much reason as rationalize what they already believe anyway.

Psychohistorian Lloyd deMause observes that “most of what is in history books is stark raving mad -- the maddest of all being the historian’s belief that it is sane.” He believes that large groups are almost always driven more by fantasy than reality. Different nations and groups have different “group fantasies” which are designed not to negotiate with reality but to contain fears and anxieties.

This is why the further back in history one travels, the more one can identify group fantasies that clearly have no basis in fact and are driven by irrational anxiety and fear -- witch hunts, senseless wars, racial and religious scapegoating, panics of various kinds. But if your perceptual abilities have not been damaged by multiculturalism, you can see the fantasies just as clearly in the present. For example, as noted above, our “war on terror” is being waged against Islamist fantasists for whom reality does not enter into the equation. Unfortunately, this doesn’t make it easier to combat them, but more difficult. Israel has been fighting a version of this fantasy since its very existence, but in truth, Jews have been at war with paranoid anti-Semitic fantasists for over two thousand years. Fantasies are obviously quite lethal.

The important point is that the fantasy precedes the reality, and will look for conditions in external reality to support it, identical to the manner in which the paranoid mind operates. According to deMause, the state of the group fantasy is what national opinion polls actually capture. That is, they take a snapshot of the “mood of the country,” which mostly consists of “gut feelings” that have nothing to do with actual conditions, only with the shifting nature of the group fantasy.

As such, the fact that the economy is thriving is literally inconsequential to the significant majority of Americans who fantasize that it is not. In contrast, FDR was able to sustain a unifying group fantasy despite economic polices that aggravated and extended the Great Depression. In fact, this is often what makes a “great leader”: the ability to forge a strong and compelling fantasy for people to believe in. When the mood of a populace is “angry” or “sullen,” as pollsters have been repeating ad nauseam, it is almost always because the group fantasy -- whose purpose it is to contain primitive anxiety -- is breaking down.

The identical thing happens to a patient who is “decompensating.” The colloquial term for this is a “nervous breakdown,” but what it really means is that the ego’s customary defenses are failing and that the person is being overwhelmed by unconscious material. People will often make rash and irrational choices in such a situation, for example, making Nancy Pelosi speaker of the house and imagining that it will stop the psychic bleeding. It might, but only for the time it takes for the unconscious cycle to renew itself.

So a national opinion poll -- including an election -- doesn’t necessarily provide much in the way of objective information about objective circumstances, but subjective data about how it “feels” to be part of a historical group at a particular time. In fact, deMause turns the presidential approval rating on its head. He doesn’t believe that it actually measures approval but disapproval about how effectively or ineffectively a fantasy leader is “containing” the public’s anxiety. Since the group is largely driven by fantasy, it naturally follows that they will look for a leader who can reassure them about the world and diminish their anxiety.

In this regard, it is a mistake to think of the fantasy leader as an oedipal parent; the process is much more primitive, involving the need for pre-oedipal projection and containment. Using this method, one would not say that President Bush has a 35% approval rating, but a 65% “toxicity” rating. But the toxicity is a measure of how much unconscious material is being projected into him by a large segment of the group.

This is one of the reasons it is so wearying to be president, because it involves the day-to-day processing of so much irrational projection of hatred and anxiety. I personally don’t know how President Bush puts up with it. All therapists know how difficult it is to deal with just one borderline patient in their practice, but it is as if a president must deal with the projections of fifty million or so difficult patients who are irrationally experiencing him as evil incarnate. The president must be a receptacle for continuous projections from various levels of emotional immaturity and unreality. And in the case of President Bush, who tends not to fight back and engage with the projections, it only makes that part of the population more enraged with him, just as a borderline patient would feel outraged if the therapist did not take their perceptions seriously, no matter how distorted. One of the difficult things about being a therapist is “holding” the patient’s negative projections. You cannot just say, “I’m not your father who abused you! I’m me!” Rather, you must patiently tolerate being Dr. Evil while helping them discover the psychic truth behind their projection.

It is fascinating to note that the left is so out of touch with their fantasies about President Bush, that one constantly reads about how they imagine that he is fighting back in the most dangerous and extreme way -- that he doesn’t tolerate dissent, that he questions people’s patriotism, that he is destroying our civil rights, that he punishes ideological enemies. Pure projection.

People who are stripped of important group fantasies will feel like they are going crazy -- just like primitive groups who are suddenly “decultured” of the myths that have served to organize their cognitive/emotional world. It is fair to say that the left has been dealing with this sort of anxiety since the 1980’s, as their various political fantasies have been discredited one by one. But just like a religious group that predicts the second coming, the majority of leftists simply dig in their heels when their predictions prove false. This shows the extent to which their outward political ideology rests on a deeper structure of irrational fantasy that is nearly impossible to eradicate.

deMause outlines a four-part process that the fantasy leader undergoes in relation to the group. At first the group will see him as unrealistically strong, magically able to unify the group and keep enemies at bay. Certainly we saw this in the months after 9-11, when President Bush was so popular. Again, his popularity had little to do with the actual merits of his policies, but with the public’s need to feel safe, and the feeling that Bush would protect them. Stage two is the “cracking” stage, when the feelings of magical nurturing begin to deteriorate, so that the public’s mood begins to feel unstable and dangerous. The leader begins to be experienced as weak, unable to control events. Looking back, I believe that this really started with the successful attacks on President Bush’s Thanksgiving trip to Iraq a couple of years ago, but especially after the Terry Schiavo matter.

Stage three, “collapse,” occurs when the public begins to feel that the fantasy leader is helpless to prevent catastrophe -- when the group’s anxiety has become unhinged and uncontained in a completely unrealistic way. This brings on pure rage and free-floating paranoid fantasies of death and destruction. Thus we see the President unrealistically blamed and vilified for all sorts of things outside his control -- homosexual predators, hurricaines, rising (but never falling) gas prices, global warming, deadly flu pandemics, etc. He is seen as weak and vulnerable, which triggers a wave of near homicidal anxiety that aims to purify the group by ritual slaying of the divine king, identical to what took place in the most primitive tribes.

One of the geniuses of the American system is that it accounts for both our civilized and our primitive natures. In holding national elections every two years, it provides an outlet for primitive anxieties that historically toppled regimes. In other words, it institutionalizes the logic of human sacrifice, which is stage four of the group fantasy cycle. Thus it is no coincidence that President Bush performed a human sacrifice and held up the head of Donald Rumsfeld to the baying MSM fantasists on the morning after the election. If you keep up with the ranting of the infantile left at dailykos or huffingtonpost, nothing less than some form of human sacrifice would have answered their homicidal rage. But one thing we can know with certainty: it won’t work, for magic is a symtom of that which it purports to cure.


dilys said...

Voting with Michael Steele: Here's what a certain kind of angry projection looks like. Every parent (and probably every spouse) has noticed, too, that the anger is worse toward "one of your own," where the projection mis-match rattles closer to home and the fantasy feels really betrayed.

The tell-tale reaction looks like ridicule, exile, vitriol -- not straightforward disagreement. Violate the tribal fantasy at your own risk.

cousin dupree said...

Exactly. It is why the left is far angrier at President Bush than terrorists.

Anonymous said...

Your blog may be the only thing I can bear to read for the next two or three months. Please do your best.

geckofeeder said...

Agreed. Haven't you noticed that you get nothing but
the best EVERY day?

Jacob Lybbert said...

Am I right to conclude that this (your theory) explains why conservatives are not nearly as depressed about the outcome of this election as the Angry Left was post-2000 & 2004?

Gagdad Bob said...

I'm off to work, so no time to elaborate, but yes -- a properly spiritual person does not displace the logic of sacrifice to the exterior world, but applies it to the approprate realm.

Joseph said...

"Intellectuals are just like anyone else, only worse, in that they do not so much reason as rationalize what they already believe anyway."
Amen. Nonetheless, I often notice, in dismay, that you do the same thing when you defend the various and sundry decidedly non-consevervative policies of the current administration. I sometimes listen to Rush, and have commented to many that he does the same thing. Yet, as I listened yesterday, he spoke of being finally "liberated" so that he could stop doing it. In effect, he admitted to creating arguments in behalf of policies he actually opposed, since he thought that the Republicans represented the lesser of two evils. One can do that as a politician, but conservative commentaters need not do it. I have much more respect for a George Will or a Steven Warshawsky, who, are aligned to principles, not a party, and therefore feel no need to withhold criticism, or deny the facts of clear leftist policies emerging from the alledgedly right administration.

"Thus we see the President unrealistically blamed and vilified for all sorts of things outside his control -- homosexual predators, hurricaines, rising (but never falling) gas prices, global warming, deadly flu pandemics, etc."

The conservatives who vehemently disagree with Bush (not, by the way on the "War on Terror" as such, but on the attempt to make the world safe for democracy, by force), do not engage in any of these actions. The Republicans lost the election because they strayed from principles, not because the left was successful. Its the exact same reason Bush 1 lost to Clinton. The "No new taxes" lie sealed his fate. In the end, many conservatives are willing to rely on the actual conserving process of checks and balances and the two-pary system to do the work of establishing some modicum of conservatism, if the professed right breaks with core principles. The results of the election are simply so many chickens coming home to roost. To the argument that we can no longer afford to do that, since we are at "War", must come the response: we can never afford to break with principles, war or no war.

cousin dupree said...


You are lying again. Bob is the last person to confuse conservatism with Republicanism. Why don't you start your own blog and share your foolishness with the wider world, instead of inflicting your beastly society upon us?

Joseph said...

Ron Paul won in a landslide. Go conservatism!

AngloAmerican said...

Madness is rare in individuals - but in groups, parties, nations, and ages it is the rule.

Friedrich Nietzsche

The ideas here remind me of Nietzsche. Vertical Man = Superior Man = Ubermensch.

Although Nietzsche claimed that placing belief or faith in anything transcendental is nihilistic and would lead to the failure of man's attempt to become Übermensch. It’s interesting that he should come to an opposite conclusion concerning transcendence.

Also, it does seem a bit grandiose referring to Rumsfeld's resignation as a human sacrifice. Bush and his team have failed in their war on terror and so change is required and now the people have spoken. The people need to see victory or a series of small victories to be inspired to keep sacrificing their children. Instead of Iraq being a shining city on the hill Lebanon is. This should never have happened. OBL, Zawahiri and Omar are all still on the loose after five years and terrorists have sanctuaries that cannot be attacked. Heads needed to roll for very practical and rational reasons.

Hoarhey said...

You wrote this:
"Also, it does seem a bit grandiose referring to Rumsfeld's resignation as a human sacrifice."

And then in the same paragraph you wrote this:
"Heads needed to roll for very practical and rational reasons."

Which proves Bob's point about the symbolic beheading.

So which is it, a grandiose statement, or a spot on analogy of a primitive instinct?

Joseph said...

I realize that Bob does not confuse "Republicanism" with conservatism, but he does seem to confuse Bushism or somehow, Bush the man, with conservatism. He appears to have apriori decided the Bush is "good", and, therefore, all evidence, arguments, and/or facts to the contrary are swept under the proverbial rug. I may be wrong, but I don't see how one can equate wrong with lying. As for the beastly society I invision, I am at a loss as to what you mean.

AngloAmerican said...

I don't see it as "spot on analogy of a primitive instinct" but rather a practical necessity. You don't sacrifice a poorly performing employee you fire him. The reason should be practical and not to assuage the blood lust of the masses. Because Bush didn't do this long before the election it will cost the party dearly - much like it costs a company to keep a poorly performing employee too long.

Good point though - we need to be more precise with our language and keep those metaphores under control.

AngloAmerican said...

ooops, I mean metaphors!

Yip said...

Another excellent post and as usual, insightful. Thank you.

"most of it is about as illuminating as an intellectual patient’s rationalizations of his self-defeating behavior"...

That line of thought has me thinking hard... thanks for that too.

Bruce Kodish said...

"...a culture or subculture is like a public neurosis, while a neurosis is like a private culture."

Well put, Gagdad!

hoarhey said...


That is why it is called a mataphor.
In todays society we say "heads will roll" or "he got the axe", etc., there is a reason for it, it's the way things were done in the past.
That is why I said Bobs analogy of Rumsfelds symbolic "beheading" was spot on. Forced resignation is the "new", civilized way of appeasing the masses.
Though I'm sure many leftists would rather he did it the old fasioned way. :)

ximeze said...


I’ve followed your comments with interest for a couple of weeks. Clearly, you are seeking with ardor, but I get a sense of confusion & a bit of flailing around. Bob’s post today may include some hints:

“The identical thing happens to a patient who is “decompensating.” The colloquial term for this is a “nervous breakdown,” but what it really means is that the ego’s customary defenses are failing and that the person is being overwhelmed by unconscious material.

People who are stripped of important group fantasies will feel like they are going crazy -- just like primitive groups who are suddenly “decultured” of the myths that have served to organize their cognitive/emotional world.”

The above certainly explains why it’s so hard to make any Real changes, why “man must die, to live” & addicts hit bottom to make any progress out of their personal hell. Dismantling is very scary & painful, but well worth the effort.

will said...

The DeMause schematic - the unrealistic investiture of strength and wisdom in a leader, the eventual crumbling of that projection, etc. - could also be applied to a lot of people regarding their romantic attachments, no? You know, the projection of the anima/animus on to another, then when reality rears its head and the projectee reveals himself or herself to be less than perfect, the slide into disillusion, often accompanied by considerable bitterness and a demand for a trophy head.

AngloAmerican said...

Thanks Hoarey for the lesson on metaphors. I'm just having a bit of difficulty with the notion of Rumsfeld as sacrificial lamb.

valiens said...

This is what comes of replacing dancing around the fire with staring into the television. Group fantasies are affirmed en masse hourly.

You've approached this with such clarity. It's so refreshing: like a priest a president is a lightening rod for anxiety. (And God bless! Better he than I!) I hadn't thought about the projection from the pres persective this way, but you're right.

If this is true, the human sacrifice idea is essential to the whole ritual, regardless of the facts of this particular case. Didn't everyone see it coming? It wasn't a mere firing, but frought with meaning. The semiotic importance is not to be underplayed. It is especially significant that he is a willing victim of the temple, offering himself. The fulfillment of expectation makes it all the more satisfying. Now the sun can rise tomorrow.

Shifting gears, what is it about that persistant "bad economy" illusion? So irritating. Will it magically lift now? Or do we have to elect a Democratic Chief to break the dastardly, persistent spell (as if pork spending is the mojo, regardless of the result)?

Anonymous said...

ah yes the false consciousness of the masses....we have a closet marxist ub our midst

valiens said...

No need for name calling. Marxist language does not a Marxist make. I was simply picking up Bob's ball and running with it.

Didn't realize it was a private party, I'll go back to lurking.

Anonymous said...

All the unconscious and quasi-conscious forces you talk about are real. I would like to believe there is another layer, an intuitive rationality in the election results. It's a kind of double-take by the skeptics about the terror threat - they are saying, in effect, ARE YOU SURE we need to sacrifice so much for another Cold War, this time against the Islamic fascists? I happen to believe the skeptics about the war are wrong - the danger is real, and it will get worse with proliferation, etc. However, I cannot blame those who are hoping otherwise. So this election is a test, in a way. People are asking to be convinced. If nothing bad happens over the next X number of years, historians will say in retrospect that Bush went too far in Iraq. But if the terrorists follow us home, we will have to strike again, and this time the Dems will have to go along, or lose all credibility. So --- yes, all that rage and fear is there, but at some other level, there is a kind of testing going on, just as there is in the therapy room.

Jeff Wilson said...

The unconscious mind and Iraq.

Pandora's box, anyone?

Isn't that story like, so 3000 years ago?

Tell me something new, already.

Renaissance Nerd said...

What an excellent essay! I would call the thinking of all of these fantasists Romantic, in the philosophical sense, and one thing I've been struggling to make sense of is how 'intellectuals' and journalists etc can be so simple-minded. I don't mean it in a derogatory sense but an 'economic' system simpler than socialism can scarcely be imagined. Their Manichaean outlook is likewise simplistic, and the assertion that simply putting 'progressives' in charge will harmonize the planets and usher in the Age of Aquarius doesn't strike me as deep and complex thought.

'Magical' thinking never occurred to me as an explanation, but thanks to this essay I'm kicking myself for my own obtuseness. It's always obvious AFTER the fact. It's not often that I get to learn so much from a 1000 words, so now I'm going to go back and read everything you've ever written on this blog. Excuse me.

thanos said...

Wonderful article Bob, and I am stealing this: "Intellectuals are just like anyone else, only worse, in that they do not so much reason as rationalize what they already believe anyway." to read and remind myself when I go overboard with rationalizations.

Now, how to differentiate -- what is the line between a dream of things that could be and a fantasy that could never become reality? To be driven by dreams of the future, or to be driven by phantasmagorical fantasies frothing in paranoia? I will choose the former.

Anonymous said...

Bah, nothing but ivory tower psychobabble :P

Actually its nice to see a conservative arguing from a psychoanalytic perspective. I think the psychoanalytic critics on the left would benefit from some competition from conservatives - vice versa, of course.

I did find one glaring problem with your argument (which was quite a relief because at first I was worried - oh no! He might be right!) and that was: you say group anxiety is unrealistically unhinged by paranoid fantasies of destruction and then cite hurricanes as an example of collapse in confidence in Bush. You're treating the public backlash in lieu of Katrina, it seems to me, as a matter where there was little Bush and his administration could do and the anger operated more in the symbolic than actual effect. That's a mistake of interpretation - the federal response was inadequate considering the infrastructure and resources available, and Bush decided to have an optimistic photo-op, later commending the bungled emergency response, instead of honestly appraising the disaster. The theories of psyche are effective, but your argument must be grounded in material conditions ;)

John said...

Speaking of psycho-hisory you are always raving on about the cultural delsusions and deficiencies of the left.
Why not check out this set of essays by deMause on the dreadful sanity of the Reagan years. Which in my opinion were just a minor prelude to the right wing so called "conservative" assault on the USA and world body politic. The "culture" of death rules!!

John said...

John again. Poor spelling in my last post.
As a matter of interest Lloyd deMause was a participant in a forum and group brought together by Michael Lerner from Tikkun to try to counter the right wing hysteria generated in response to that event in New York.I was sent information about the forum and an invitation to participate.

CBDenver said...

Gagdad Bob says "While everyone is subject to unconscious motivations, the classical liberalism of American conservatism is rooted in a far more realistic vision of human nature than any of its competitors."

Realistic vision of human nature, yes. But I think another factor is that a classical liberal of the American conservative mold also believes in self-reliance. Some people expect someone else to take care of them, while others take responsibility for their own lives.

The hurricane Katrina situation is a great example. Those who expected the federal government to take care of them responded with irrational anger and vilification of Bush when the federal government's response was lacking. But a person who believes in self-reliance would consider it his responsibility to have a evacuation plan for himself and his family -- not the government's. So there would be no need to blame someone else if the plan was lacking.

Those who expect others to take care of them think more like children than adults -- and I think that is a big factor in making them more prone to fantasy ideologies and irrational thinking.