Saturday, May 16, 2015

Jung, Evil, & the Marathon Bombing

There's a strong sense or consensus that the actions of the Marathon bombers were evil. Yet I suspect that in their minds their actions were moral and just, with justice being the highest value that trumped all other concerns. That might be why, during the trial, the younger brother showed no remorse. In his book Jung on Evil, Murray Stein explores the great psychologist's thoughts on these matters.
The crusader spirit of someone identified with archetypal thoughts and values will argue fiercely that the ends justify the means and will overlook all countervailing considerations. . . . Now ordinary moral categories and the ego's ethical attachments are easily over-ridden in the name of "higher" (certainly stronger) values. And when these dubious higher values have been become the group norm, individual and collective shadows have found a secure playground. This is how evil is unleashed on a mass scale; it is individual shadow added to shadow and then raised to the square power by group consensus, permission and pressure.
By putting Tsarnaev on trial, instead of summarily executing him on the spot two years ago, the US followed the rule of law, which, for all of its flaws, does bring us in closer proximity to true rather than fanatical justice. As for the death penalty: if we feel it is unjust we must remove it as an option. That being said, we have a deep ongoing responsibility, individually and collectively, to understand our own motivations and our shadows. No person's religious or national affiliation exempts them. Stein tells us:
The first duty of the ethically-minded person is, from Jung's psychological perspective, to becomes as conscious as possible of his or her own shadow. The shadow is made up of the personality's tendencies, motives, and traits that a person considers shameful for one reason or another and seeks to repress or actually represses unconsciously. If they are repressed, they are unconscious and are projected onto others. When this happens there is usually moral indignation and the groundwork is laid for a moral crusade. Filled with righteous indignation, persons can attack others for perceiving in them what is unconscious shadow in themselves, and a holy war ensues. This is worse than tilting at windmills, and it ends up being morally reprehensible in it's own right. . . . A careful examination of conscience and of the personal unconscious is therefore the first requirement if one seeks seriously to do something about the problem of evil.
I would add that, because the task of identifying evil is fraught with pitfalls, if one is committed to justice it is wisest to also be committed to active nonviolence.

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