Our Messy Mix of Aggression and Passivity

We produce both reactive aggression and unhealthy passivity in our psyche.

We produce both reactive aggression and unhealthy passivity in our psyche.

Here we stand, aggressively destroying our planet while passively letting it happen. We simply don’t have a lot of insight into two primitive aspects of our mental and emotional functioning—aggression and passivity.

Certainly we need some amount of aggression—make that healthy aggression—in order to thrive and to secure our place in the world. An aggressive approach to work and sports, for instance, typically produces more pleasure and success than a passive approach.

Yet people are likely to produce reactive or unhealthy aggression such as anger, resentment, and cynicism as much as the healthy variety. Along with overflows of reactive aggression, we also exhibit overdoses of passivity. How else can we explain our tolerance of a growing surveillance state, our acceptance of an oppressive banking system, our weakness for mass marketing and propaganda, and our sedation by pharmaceuticals and an entertainment complex?

Our entanglement in reactive aggression—whether physical, verbal, or in our thoughts—arises out of our unconscious temptation to entertain emotionally the feeling of being powerless. We’re tempted to act belligerently (or cheer on those who do) because we’re determined to cover up a weakness that we’re reluctant to face, namely our emotional entanglement in fear, insecurity, passivity, and self-doubt.

For instance, the desire to possess assault weapons and large ammunition clips, as opposed to a hunting rifle, is all about seizing an opportunity, out of inner passivity, to experience spell-binding sensations of power. [Read more...]

Why We Fear and Hate the Truth

We downsize the mystery of life and package it into bite-size convictions.

Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing ever happened. – Winston Churchill.

We fear and hate many of truth’s disclosures because they’re often accompanied by narcissistic insults. What’s a narcissistic insult? It’s a bulletin from reality that, while capable of smartening us up, offends our ego. To avoid such insults, we cling to our illusions and limit our intelligence and inner freedom.

History records how truth has threatened our self-regard. People of the 16th Century ignored the new scientific findings and clung to their ego-gratifying illusion that the earth was the center of the universe. Three centuries later, Charles Darwin delivered a narcissistic insult when he considered the likelihood that man had descended from ancient apes, a prospect that horrified the proud architects of the Industrial Age. Four decades later, another profound narcissistic insult was leveled when Sigmund Freud contended, in The Interpretation of Dreams, that much of our mental and emotional life at any given moment is unconscious. Our ego, that self-centered me that pretends to know us intimately, was gravely insulted. George Bernard Shaw remarked soon afterwards: “All great truths begin as blasphemies.” [Read more...]

Why We Dither on Climate Change

What exactly is the nature of our resistance?

I’ve been trying for some time to fathom the psychology of educated and supposedly sophisticated people who, in paralysis and resistance, are unwilling to respond rationally to the perils of global warming. We need to look deeply into the heart of this issue.

Why haven’t we taken rational or logical steps to shut down our lethal fossil-fuels industry and to replace it with better conservation and renewable-energy technologies? An assortment of psychological reasons for our paralysis present themselves, including denial, greed, fear, passivity, stubbornness, self-centeredness, self-sabotage, and our species’ lack of compassion for future generations.

Some concerned citizens see greed as the main problem. They want to break the power of the fossil-fuel industry and force it to keep its trillions of dollars in oil, coal, and gas reserves in the ground. They believe that if the industry is identified as the enemy of humanity, people will rise up to fight a moral battle against it.

This strategy is well and good, yet most of us know the industry can be ruthless and greedy, and still we aren’t dashing down the street to join coalitions. I believe we have to look deeper into our paralysis. We need to wage a psychological battle with ourselves as well as a moral battle with the industry. [Read more...]

Welcome Aboard the Voyage of Self-Discovery

Embarking on the voyage of self-discovery

Centuries ago, explorers launched the Age of Discovery. Now it’s time to launch the Age of Self-Discovery. Our vessel is in need of favorable winds. Storm clouds of worldwide calamity are gathering on the horizon.

Global warming and nuclear weapons proliferation are two thunderheads of approaching destruction. Humanity’s response to these dangers has amounted to “the social psychosis of denial,” as one social reformer calls it. Psychologists have other names—learned helplessness, normalcy bias, and motivated blindness—for our tendency to deny approaching or existing danger.

We are likely to deny reality to the degree that we are in denial of important aspects of our human nature. As David Brooks of The New York Times puts it: “. . . the most seductive evasion is the one that leads us to deny the underside of our own nature.”

If we deny our own nature, how can we expect to save Nature? If we don’t care to know ourselves, we won’t care enough about saving our planet.

If we stop denying our nature, what will we discover about ourselves? Depth psychology contends that inner aggression and inner passivity are two dominant influences in our psyche that shape our personality and perceptions. I believe that our better nature, our courageous self, is entangled in the conflict between inner aggression (the superego or inner critic) and inner passivity (the unconscious or subordinate ego). We haven’t broken out of social psychosis because our humanity is trapped in this inner conflict. [Read more...]