After giving a lecture where I discussed the Holocaust, an elderly man approached me. I could see a genuine kindness and compassion in his face, and also sensed that his soul
had seen far too much in his lifetime. He wanted me to re-consider my comment that we could never understand what created the Holocaust and ongoing acts of genocide. Gently, yet firmly he explained that when we stop trying to understand, we open the door open for future occurrences. I immediately realized that I had made a terrible mistake, and apologized to him and to the memory of all the past, present and future victims of these crimes against humanity whose tragic fate may have been sealed by our collective lack of involvement.
Now, yet again we stand aghast looking at the ongoing proliferation of violence in the world. From the slaughter and rape of the young woman in India, to the shooting of Malala, the 14 year old girl who was targeted because she spoke up for girls right to an education, to the current rash of violence in our own country. We have only to look at the news to be reminded of the slaughter of the innocents in Newtown, CT, of the Tucson shootings a few years ago, and this most recent horror where after shooting a school bus driver, a man held a five (5) year old boy hostage in a bunker for days.
While there are fundamental differences between the Holocaust, acts of genocide and these killings, they may, nevertheless have similar origins within the psyche. Our collective response to these atrocities and tragedies is one of rage, horror, retaliation, and cries for more governmental control. While these are to some extent appropriate and meaningful responses, they neglect to
address the core issues.
Now in yet another effort to manage this issue of collective
violence, we hear the collective refrain, singing of gun control and the ban on assault weapons. Governmental agencies and individuals are lined up on both sides of this issue, positioned either for or against a ban on assault weapons. As we have learned, these assault weapons are semi-automatic guns able to shoot a large round of bullets within seconds. After the recent Newtown shootings, where the shooter, Adam Lanza, used a 233-caliber Bushmaster AR-15 semi-automatic rifle to fire more than 100 bullets during this massacre, we are now all painfully aware of the capability of assault weapons.
The chilling reality is that many of these children and their
teachers died after being shot multiple times with this rapid fire rifle, and never had a chance to escape from the barrage of bullets ripping through their bodies. While virtually every hunter would tell you that a single shot rifle is more than enough of a weapon to kill their prey, and see absolutely no need for such guns in the civilian world, our government continues to allow the sale and purchase of these weapons.
As we approach this issue from an archetypal perspective, we have to ask what God or demon is sated by the presence of these weapons. So too, we now ask what is the government’s conscious and unconscious need to support
the ownership of these guns within the collective? Has this served to support the proliferation of violence and on a deeper level, to once again provide the necessary tools for this violent and demonic presence dwelling within the human heart and psyche, free reign?
Elie Wiesel, as one of the last living survivors of the
Holocaust, will never forget that with each day the world failed to intervene in stopping the madness occurring daily in the camps, hundreds of thousands of innocent people died. He reminds us that the world leaders in the United States and Great Britain who had surveillance photos of the camps’and pictures of the daily atrocities and killings, knew full well of the extent of these atrocities, yet waited day after day before engaging the troops. To have brought the soldiers in just one day earlier would have saved the lives of thousands of men, women and children held in these camps. Wiesel stands against the silence, and associates the fear of speaking as akin to being an accomplice to these acts. Culpability for all these past, present and future murders rests on many shoulders.
Now we all live in fear of the next assault, and with the
scepter of individual and collective fear and collective paranoia staining the air, we take up arms against this enemy. Gun sales have suddenly escalated to unprecedented numbers. With rifle, and pistol in hand, we arm ourselves against these external threats, and buy yet more ammunition, board up our homes, call for increased security in schools and churches and continue on in this march to fortify our world; believing we are now impervious against these threats. While this fear is clearly justified by the contemporary and past events, we need more than a pragmatic, instinctive response to these situations, if we hope to ever gain any footing against these horrors. As each and every one of these events represents an eruption of psychic contents into the world, it is now imperative to understand the psychic and archetypal forces driving these events. We have to ask what it is that we truly fear and perhaps the most difficult question may be to ask if this dreaded enemy lives within our own home.
As we force these dreadful and murderous aspects of the psyche further into the recesses of our mind, they gather strength and emerge in a distorted and even more dreaded guise. The ever present awareness of such violence and terror in world history provides more than enough evidence that human denial, religion, repression, and governmental policies are no foil for these unimaginably powerful agencies within the psyche. We are once again a nation under siege. Perhaps the most important consideration is not merely how to stop the purchase of weapons, but rather – who is the enemy holding us collectively hostage in a prison of unconscious terror and what can do to win our freedom and reclaim our collective safety?
Michael Conforti, Ph.D. is a Jungian Analyst, and is the founder and director of the Assisi Institute. Dr. Conforti's work has resulted not only in a training institute based on his discoveries, but also the development of a new
discipline, Archetypal Pattern Analysis.