BEFORE THE PHOENIX
If it were only so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?
The title of this issue is "Before the Phoenix." The legend of the Phoenix has appeared in many cultures, dating to as early as the eighth century, B.C. In most variations, the Phoenix lives for a very long time (often 500 years). When it reaches the appointed end of its life, it immolates itself, then some time later rises renewed from its own ashes. I'm writing this three weeks after the terrorist attack which destroyed the twin World Trade centers in New York City. America is preparing for a "war" against the terrorists. The world is separating into "good" and "bad", though of course people differ in identifying who falls into each camp. By the time you read this, perhaps the Phoenix will have risen anew from the ashes, perhaps the immolation will still be in process.
In this issue, you will read Lore Haber Zeller's terrifying experience as Jew, barely escaping from the Nazis. Lore and her husband Max did escape, came to Los Angeles, and helped found the Los Angeles Jung Institute. And you'll read how Mary Rothschild met with the survivors of the "ethnic cleansing" in Bosnia to try and start the process of healing. How can we understand such events, how can we understand the nature of evil?
In the early 1960's, experimental psychologist Stanley Milgram made an attempt at answering this question scientifically. Milgram speculated that there must have been something in the German character that allowed the Holocaust to take place. He planned to first conduct a series of experiments in America which would show that Americans would never do something morally reprehensible. Later he would go to Germany for the second stage of the experiment, where he would see the difference between German and American morality. He never got beyond the first stage.
Milgram's experiment began with a lie. Supposedly there was an experimental subject behind a screen who was supposed to select the word that best associated with another word from a list of four or five words. Actually there was no such subject; the second subject was another psychologist who was in on the experiment. The actual subject was supposed to help with the experiment by giving the person behind the screen a small shock when he picked incorrectly: an incentive to get future selections correct. There was a further nasty addition that if he missed again the voltage of the shock was increased.
The actual point of the experiment was to see just how far the real subject would be willing to go with the electric shocks. The subject had to administer the test, turn a dial to set the amount of the shock, then push a button to give the shock. The machine had a dial that was labeled all the way from "slight shock" to "danger: severe shock." Past that point were unlabelled points supposedly beyond the bounds of the test. Of course, there was no actual shock, but the person didn't know that.
Milgram wanted to find out just how far people would go before they would refuse to administer any more shocks. Neither he nor any of his colleagues expected very many people would go on to the end. They were wrong. Every subject did! Milgram was startled and redesigned the experiment, making it more and more macabre in the process. He made a tape beforehand of the supposed subject crying out, begging for help, screaming, and at the end of the test, totally silent as if he had passed out. Still sixty-five percent of the subjects proceeded on to the end of the test!
The subjects didn't just blithely push the buttons. As the test went on, they reacted as any human being would: they begged Milgram to let them stop. He coldly told them to go on. They pleaded that the subject was dying. Milgram repeated that the subject was safe and the experiment must continue. That was the key phrase: "The experiment must continue."
Astonishingly, Milgram never did realize that he had placed himself in exactly the same relationship to the people administering the shock as they were to the subject who was supposedly being strapped in and receiving the shock. Milgram insisted that if he had been one of the subjects, he would have stopped. Yet, in effect, he was . . . and he didn't stop.
His manipulation of his subjects, lying to them from the beginning, was bad enough. But, at the start of his experiment, he never thought that it would lead to such terrifying results, such potentially damaging psychological results for his subjects. However, after the first experiments, when he found that it did, his humanity should have made him stop. But it didn't; the experiment had to continue.
Milgram never did admit that he was at fault. Many psychologists were appalled at the experiment. But, frighteningly, many more psychologists thought it was a grand idea and started designing similar experiments of their own based on tricking the subject. They argued: what a chance to get some real data; don't let the subject know he is a subject and you will get true responses. The morality of the situation was lost in the rush for more data. There has since been so much experimentation of this kind that one wonders if it is any longer possible to find a subject who will believe a psychological experimenter. After all, isn't it a given that the experimenter might lie to you? But all in the interests of science, you understand.
Jung said that "in the last resort there is no good that cannot produce evil and no evil that cannot produce good." Or as Albert the Alligator says in "Pogo": "we has seen the enemy and he is us." We are all afraid of looking at the monsters that we fear lie within us. The ancient story of Pandora's Box counsels us to leave hidden things unexamined. Yet it is precisely when we don't examine our hidden side that it builds to monster proportions and comes bursting forth into the outer world. Once we begin to acknowledge that the monsters we see without, live within, that danger is abated. Instead we find the beginnings of the wisdom which every supposed monster can teach us.
I'd like to tell two little stories that speak to these issues, one from my own life, which shows a loss of innocence, the other from fiction, which illustrates the possibilities of meeting the darkness within.
A YEAR AT A MILITARY UNIVERSITY
Many years ago, for complicated reasons that don't concern us here, I spent my freshman year in college at an all-male military school. I knew so little about what I was getting into that I didn't even realize it was totally military! I knew that was part of it, but I was in total shock when I arrived and was issued uniforms, sent to a barber for a crewcut, and assigned to a military company, just as if I was in the Army itself. That's when the fun began.
We lived in dormitories that were more like military barracks with wire-frame beds, military blankets and sheets, etc. We woke at a prescribed hour, studied at prescribed hours, went to bed at a prescribed hour. We marched to meals, ate as a group, exercised as a group, did everything as a group. Only attending classes broke the group routine, but after classes we returned to the barracks, and the regimentation began again. We were totally subsumed within a collective culture.
It was part of the school's code that freshmen were hazed, especially by the sophomores who had gone through the hazing the year before. A number of scenes from that year stick in my mind. In one, the company's sophomores had decided I was too cocky for my own good. They told me to wait until lights out, then show up in one of their rooms. When I did, they had me do pushups until my arms wouldn't support me any longer, then I had to crouch with my arms extended "grabbing butterflies" until my legs gave out and I collapsed. While this went on, they told me, in graphic language, what a worthless person I was and how I was going to learn to act like a freshman was expected to act. Then I would be forced to repeat the cycle. This continued until I threw up. Then back to the cycle. When I couldn't throw up any more, they made me drink water, so I could continue the exercises and throw up some more. Eventually they grew tired of this fun and let me return to my room. Though not everyone was unfortunate enough to go through this regimen, I was hardly a unique case.
We ate all our meals together in the mess hall (as the cafeteria was termed in proper military fashion). As punishment for some unremembered crime, a friend and I were forced to eat "square meals"; i.e., we sat bolt upright, eyes looking straight forward. We then had to pick food off our plates with our forks, move them straight upward, then back to us at a right angle to eat. If we dropped something, we had to leave the table. This was hardly a punishment, as we also had to drench our food in Tabasco sauce, which, of course, made it inedible. The only other food we could get were from candy machines in the classroom buildings during the day. Though we ate as many as we could, our weight kept dropping off. I can't remember how long this went on, but it seemed like forever. By year's end I was down from 175 pounds to less than 130 pounds and looked like a concentration camp victim in the school yearbook.
Another freshman in our outfit was a gentle boy whose father had died in the Korean War. He had grown up exclusively among women and, though not gay, was more sensitive than fit into such a setting. From the beginning the sharks sensed his weakness and circled around him. I was just trying to survive myself, so didn't pay much attention, assuming that he was subjected to the same sort of hazing I was going through. But his was worse; for one thing, they made him take his mattress off his bed and sleep on the wire bed springs, wearing a full marching uniform of fatigues, boots, and helmet. I think that lack of sleep was what finally wore him out. He had a nervous breakdown and left one day while we were off as a unit on some group activity.
Once I went to another barracks to visit a friend. As I walked down the hall, I passed a door which was slightly ajar. For some reason I can't recall, I stopped and looked inside. A young man was lying next to the sink with his wrists slit and blood running all over the floor. I yelled for help and wrapped his wrists with towels. As soon as others came who were better able to deal with the emergency, I left. I later heard that he had lived, but otherwise nothing. I never found out who he was or why he had come to that pass.
I remember once sitting in my room unable to stop crying. A sophomore in my outfit who had treated me especially cruelly happened to come in while I sat there crying. He stood there and waited, not unkindly, until I stopped, then walked out without saying a word. I expected the worst, but the incident was never mentioned, and he never again mistreated me in any way.
Perhaps the most indelible memory was of a junior named Danzheizer. I never knew his first name and don't think anyone else did either. He wore the rattiest uniforms possible and always seemed to be grinning. He hung out exclusively with freshmen, giving them free access to his room, where they played poker far into the night: a rare privilege for freshmen. Late in the year, I heard his story from another upperclassman with whom I had become friendly. Danzheizer had gone through a freshman year much like the rest of us. When he returned to A&M for his sophomore year, he refused to haze the new crop of freshmen. Because of that, he was universally shunned; no one would speak to him except freshmen, who were forced by protocol to answer anyone who addressed them. Somehow he found the courage not to be driven away, but to survive in his own strange way.
Eventually my freshman year came to an end. The following summer, I had a mind-numbing job where I sat on street corners seven days a week, thirteen hours a day, recording when the buses would arrive and leave and how many passengers were on the bus. Obviously I had a lot of time for my thoughts. Two months of the summer passed before I suddenly realized that I didn't have to go back to this school. I had been so deadened that I had assumed that my only option was to return and inflict cruelty on a new crop of freshmen. With that realization, I decided instead to attend the local university for a year where I discovered what it was like to be a normal young college student.
For several years afterwards, I chewed over those memories, trying to make some sense out of them, so that I could make some sense out of life once more. I had never before realized that a collective system could make normal people do things they wouldn't otherwise. I certainly never thought that any system could compromise my morality. Yet I knew that I wasn't as brave as Danzheizer. I wouldn't have been able to do what he did: to stay there and take a stand against what I knew to be wrong. It's a sobering moment to come up against your own limits.
Incidentally, that military school was Texas A&M, which has since become the only university in the United States which has funded a chair in Jungian Studies!
GED'S STORY: HELLO DARKNESS MY OLD FRIEND
[Jung] told me that he once met a distinguished man, a Quaker, who could not imagine that he had ever done anything wrong in his life. "And do you know what happened to his children?" Jung asked. "The son became a thief, and the daughter a prostitute. Because the father would not take on his shadow, his share in the imperfection of human nature, his children were compelled to live out the dark side which he had ignored."
- A. I. Allenby describing a conversation with C. G. Jung.
We will do almost anything to avoid having to look into the dark places of our soul. And rightly so. The darkness contains much that we mere humans can't face. There is evil, of course; we're all too familiar with that, but there are also much more that is neither good nor bad, but merely beyond our human capacity to comprehend. Wonder and beauty and all our future possibilities also lie hidden in the darkness, and far too often in our shortsightedness, we confuse them with evil. There is no change that doesn't begin in the darkness of the human soul. We first have to discover an entrance into the darkness, then we have to light a tiny candle in the dark so that we can search for our future self, and finally we have to join with it. And that takes resourcefulness, and patience, and most of all courage.
The necessity for the confrontation with the shadow has been known by all cultures in all times and recorded in their myths and legends. I'm fond of a modern fictional version by science fiction writer Ursula Le Guin. In A Wizard of Earthsea, she tells the story of a world where magic still rules and wizards go through years of training at an academy, much as doctors or lawyers might today. One young wizard-in-training, Ged, already realizes that he has powerful magical abilities, which he is chafing at the bit to use. Challenged by an another student to demonstrate that power, he determines to raise a spirit from the dead, the spirit of a very great lady who died over a thousand years before. Ged's power is great enough that he succeeds at his task, but in the process a shadowy creature also emerges, a creature of darkness and evil, a creature with no name. Ged has no idea what it is, though something about it is vaguely familiar.
The shadow nearly kills him before Ged is saved by the Archmage Nemmerle, the head of the academy and its greatest wizard. But though he forces the shadow to flee, even Nemmerle cannot return the darkness to its home. The effort is so great that Nemmerle dies afterwards. Though Ged has survived, his face is deeply scarred, and the shadow is loose in the world, looking for an opportunity to finish what it started with Ged. There is seemingly no way to conquer the shadow because no one knows what it really is or what its true name might be.
For a long time, Ged wishes for death, sure that he has forfeited his future for the sake of a moment's prideful indulgence. Slowly he resumes his training as a wizard, since there is little else available for him. At least, as long as he remains at the academy, he is protected from the evil he has loosed in the world. Eventually though, he completes his training and goes out into the world, constantly on guard since he never knows when he might once again be attacked.
Ged accepts a position as wizard for a small fishing village which has the rare bad luck to be threatened by nearby dragons. While he remains there largely as security against dragons, he also performs the many small chores that a wizard can do for such a community. Though respected by the villagers, he remains a lonely, isolated figure.
Somehow he does become friendly with one of the villagers, but even that causes him further grief when his friend's small boy becomes desperately ill. While trying to cure him, Ged realizes that the boy is already dying. In desperation, he sends his spirit forth after the spirit of the boy, into the dark place that lies between the living and the dead. And there he once more encounters the shadowy creature of darkness. Somehow Ged manages to fight it off and return to the human world, where he again lies as if dead for days. The boy is dead, Ged has once more nearly died, and his fear of the shadow is now almost crippling.
When he recovers, he realizes he is a danger to the villagers as long as he remains with them. Yet he cannot leave without abandoning them to the threat of the dragons. So he determines that he must face the dragons. If he survives, which he doubts, he will then leave. At least if he dies, it won't be due to the shadow.
Ged goes to the island where the dragons live. Attacked, he slays five small dragons, if such a concept as small can be applied to dragons. Then he comes to face the great dragon who is mother of all the dragons on the island. Dragons are wise, but think and speak in ways that are strange to humans, so Ged has to learn to read the meaning that lies beneath her outer words. She thinks Ged has come to steal her treasure, but Ged insists that he only wants safety for the villagers. The dragon reveals that she knows of the shadow who pursues Ged and perhaps can give him its true name. This disturbs him, as it didn't seem possible that the shadow could have a name. When Ged resists even that temptation, the dragon decides she is tired of negotiating and will simply kill Ged. But Ged has been smart enough during their discussion to deduce the dragon's name. With that name and his wizardry, he has power over the dragon. The dragon is forced to agree that none of the dragons will ever harm the villagers again.
Ged can now leave the villagers in safety and proceed on his lonely way. He has further adventures, each of which increases his powers. Each adventure also brings a further encounter with the shadow, which increases his fear. Eventually there comes a time when he realizes that he can no longer remain the hunted, but must become the hunter. Instead of fleeing from the shadow, he turns and tries to seek the shadow. Though he has no conscious knowledge of where the shadow might be, something in him provides the path. Each time he approaches the shadowy figure now, it is the shadow who flees, reduced to setting traps for Ged in his wake. But Ged continues to pursue the shadow past the ends of the earth, to seas where no one has ever sailed.
Eventually there comes a time when there is nowhere further to flee and the time of confrontation arrives. The shadow takes on many forms as it tries to subdue or elude Ged, but Ged stands fast, holding forth a wizard's staff glowing with light. The final moment arrives when Ged speaks the shadow's name, and the name is Ged!
"Ged reached out his hands, dropping his staff, and took hold of his shadow, of the black self that reached out to him. Light and darkness met, and joined, and were one."
Having done so, Ged was once more whole and well and began his true journey, which would make him the greatest wizard of all.
Three stories, all which I hope speak to the issues we are facing today. With his experiments, Stanley Milgram hoped to demonstrate that the world could be divided into good and evil, and that science could quantitatively determine which was which. His story shows several things that speak to us today: that you can't divide the world into good and bad; that anyone can be forced into bad actions through collective pressure; that science, supposedly morally neutral, can do evil itself by refusing to face its moral obligations.
Texas A&M was the place where I personally discovered the truth revealed by Milgram's studies. Dropped into a collective culture where a certain level of evil was accepted as normal, I didn't have the strength of will to oppose it. Unable to resist the collective pressure, the best I could do was to leave in order to avoid committing evil myself.
Every stage of the story of Ged the wizard-in-training, reveals lessons in dealing with darkness. Initially he releases the darkness through his arrogance and hubris. Afterwards, realizing what he has done, he does all that one can do at that stage: he puts one foot in front of the other and works hard at becoming the man he is intended to become. Inevitably this isolates him: few follow their own path.
In trying unsuccessfully to save the dying boy, he once more has to face the darkness within, but this time it's because of his compassion for another person. That's a big step, which leads him to an act of selflessness that is the real starting point of his journey: he decides to face the dragons in order to save the villagers. Their welfare has become more important than his own. We all have to face such a challenge along the path of individuation. He discovers, as we all do, that the dragon is subtle, and speaks in ways that he cannot fully understand. Somehow, he manages to learn the dragon's true name. As all of us must.
But he still runs from the darkness, still unwilling to face what at some level he already knows. Only after he has run from his destiny as far as he can go, does he turn and seek it out. For Ged, as for all of us, he can only find his destiny "past the ends of the earth," on "seas where no one has ever sailed." The shadow always demands a unique solution from each of us. And what does he find at the end of that search? What is the name of the darkness" Why, he's known it all along: the darkness is named Ged! It is always our own identity we find if we follow that search to the end.