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Projection - roadblock to peace

from the archive, 2016

If the pen is mightier than the sword, it is well worth asking why the sword has been so rampantly employed.

If the use of the sword tends to draw retaliation by the sword, why is the temptation to wield it so great? As “defence spending” attests, coercive means and force of arms appeal both to established power interests and to those who would seek to dislodge them.

Radical honesty is required to understand the enduring attraction of force in dealing with fellow human beings. It begins by questioning why and how external evil is identified in the first place. The phenomenon of projection, explained by depth psychologists, can account for the way human beings attribute the disowned, hateful aspects of their psyche onto other human beings - who thereby become demonised and deserving of attack. Too few people, sadly, are practically aware of their tendency to project, in this psychological sense.

Projection betrays a deep-seated human urge to deny equality, in favour of a belief in one’s own superiority playing to others’ inferiority. It only works by discovering in the other what cannot - must not - be a part of one’s own make-up.

The political ideal of equality is therefore sabotaged at its very source by psychological projection. The projected psychic elements furnish the evil motive imputed to the enemy, as long as they are disowned or denied in oneself.

Questioning the evil motivation of opponents, whilst preferable to automatically assuming it, is but the beginning, not the end, of the inner work that the peace process demands.

Locating evil outside oneself - to be dealt with outside oneself - is the basic moral problem of the human condition. Ethics, whether presented in “civics” or as an integral part of faith education, teaches the distinguishing of good and evil. But fathoming the depths of ethics requires examining how and why good and evil are attributed to persons. If evil is attributed to persons or groups, then justice would seek their annihilation. This opens the door to capital punishment, political assassinations, covert and overt war, even genocide. If evil is not attributed to persons individually or collectively, then justice would not demand annihilation. It would demand correction. Explaining how this is so is the task confronting ethics. Yet there will remain the still profounder task of examining the attack on oneself by oneself.

It may be instructive, as a halfway house on the road to peace, to regard good and evil as mindsets, belonging to no-one in particular, but capable of causing noticeable effects in particular persons and groups.

The good mindset - goodwill - produces admirable results; the evil mindset produces ugly results. Only the ideal of goodness should be called unequivocally good; and no individual person or group should be labelled as unequivocally evil. Identifying good and evil as mindsets at least mitigates against projection by denying that they apply exclusively there and not here - in them and not in us.

The mindset approach, being but a halfway house, does not go the whole way and establish ownership by all of all good and evil attributes.

The steep, final mountain climb to inner peace comes with a citizen’s self-realisation as a fractal of the global society.

Then the qualities discovered in others and in institutions are recognised as a reflection of one’s own interior state. The projectible pyschic elements are first judged against by oneself in the original fragmentation of consciousness. Aspects of oneself become dirty, shameful, unredeemed, because of the original selection as to which parts of consciousness should be identified with and which disidentified from. This original division is experienced as the emotion of guilt. The attempt to cover up rather than face up to the guilt leads to an uneasiness, an anxiety - the very opposite of peace. It also carries a mounting dread of punishment, which justice demands for guilt. Liberating change begins with the awareness of the fragmentation.

The interior state of settled wholeness, inner peace, is the foundation for outer peace. Obviously, the foundation is the ending of psychological projection, the healing of the mind. An unhealed mind cannot engender peace in the world; on the contrary, it will engender more strife.

The peacemaker is really externalising in the political sphere the attainment of the psychological settlement.

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