“There’s no ticket of admission for active citizenship. Anybody can get through that gate, and anybody can ask that basic question that gets the ball rolling.” (Ralph Nader, Feb 16, 1991).
The US presidential election comes every four years and it is as if the whole country is transformed into a football stadium, with people waving red or blue flags cheering their favourite quarterback. In the last presidential horse race in 2008, the front-runners were Barrack Obama and Hillary Clinton for the blue team of Democrats and John McCain for the red team of Republicans. The presidential candidates are like football players with powerful and fashionable uniforms by Nike, Exxon, Starbucks, being dressed up by millions of dollars of campaign donations by the moneyed elite as they enter into the stadium. In the name of the game called American Democracy, it seems that their job is to prove how strong, fast, and quick they can move in the stadium, gaining points to win the game.
It seems like it is a battle between the two parties and no other colors are allowed to play, despite the fact that people who are not of these two parties are technically not breaking official rules by entering the stadium. The stadium is filled with red and blue fever, pumped up by the corporate media that follows their every move, broadcasting to people all over the United States as if the camera has a special effect that magnifies those who wear those glorious uniforms, with the barely disguised logos that show close ties to money and power; as all those who do not dress up in the proper colors become literally invisible.
Every season there are attempts to widen the political discourse, with some candidates trying to participate in an open debate. It can be observed that candidates such as Democrats Dennis Kucinich, Mike Gravel, and John Edwards, and Republican Ron Paul, working within the system, have tried to bring different perspectives and voices. The phenomenon that one can easily observe is that candidates who bring up issues not anointed by the media or the two party powers as ‘relevant’ are time and again pushed away from entering into the debate.
This season, it was when most of the candidates that challenged the party line dropped out that long time consumer advocate and former presidential candidate Ralph Nader came forward to announce his run for the Presidency as an independent. Nader shows how this game show democracy is weakening civic power and how the political system is closed, effectively blocking out the voices of citizens from it.
The Consulting Room:
One idea behind the community fieldwork is to bring the one to one interaction of consulting room out into the world. A field (as a therapy room) provides a therapeutic framework and works as a container. I see the US election process, with its system of the two dominant parties and the machinery that maintains this power structure as one facet of a deeper problem that this country is facing at large.
The same force that perpetuates the system of concentrated power and market force dominance of civic reality is also at the root of many of the social and personal ills. My intention is to expand the consulting room to the electoral arena, specifically working with the Ralph Nader campaign to help expand the grass roots citizen level debate about the candidates in this election and help expand the viability and the role of third parties and independent citizen democracy.
My clients are those Americans who choose consciously in this lifetime to participate in betterment of global society through transforming the national democracy. It is my contention that a true democracy and equal justice is in the people’s best interests. Before one elects a leader of this country to create change, each citizen needs to be working together to create his or her own democracy. Change and democracy often do not come by way of the elected leaders, but more often occurs through citizens’ active engagement in their world. I intend to learn how to help others engage in self- empowerment through this process.
This weakening of civic power seen in the absence of citizen voices in the US presidential election process is an underlying symptom of psychological problems in the form of group social neurosis.
One symptom that can be observed as prevalent among American people is a sense of disempowerment. I often see a lethargic attitude toward politics in general among American people. They feel there isn’t anything that they can do and feel hopeless about the situation.
Another symptom is a sense of fear, among those who are more engaged, when confronted with the choices of the candidates and the decaying of the American potential. This fear is co-opted and used in the underlying the choice of the lesser of the two evils. The candidate may not truly represent their interests, but compared to the worst, the prevailing fear says that he or she has to win.
Another factor is disconnection from reality. American people spend so many hours in front of screens, whether it is a computer screen or TVs, not being able to see how closed the system is, almost like living in a virtual reality, disconnected from the reality of what is happening in the world.
Another symptom is the denial of one’s own power. Some might recognize problems, but they feel lethargic, feeling that they cannot do anything about it. The one hand some might feel disempowered and on the other, project their own power onto specific presidential candidate, sit down in front of the TV as if not recognizing their own responsibility and power, only wishing for change.
If I apply the notion of therapy to the political system, the idea and fantasy that is given to a nation and planted in citizens is similar to a healing, slogan of “let’s fix the country” a promise of change. Like patients who one after another knocking the door at a therapy room, making lines in the caucus, wishing to elect a leader to bring them out of this mess as if seeing a charismatic messiah, for example seeing a resurrection of Dr. King in the speech of Barack Obama, as if seeing the Goddess of the Statue of Liberty, projecting all powers within us onto Hillary, whatever the fantasy is, it is as if we are all looking for a therapist, a master, who would have a cure or solution to our depressed foreign policy and endless manic military spending. All symptoms described above build blockages to active citizenship.
“Eugene Debs’s answer to the question, ‘what’s your biggest regret?’ According to Nader, Debs noted: ‘Under our Constitution, the American people can have almost everything they want… My biggest regret is they don’t seem to want very much…’” (cited in Aymery, May 19, 2008). Here questions are raised.
Why is it American people have such a small belief in themselves? They feel disempowered and what is worse, don’t even recognize how they are disempowered? What obstacles do they put before themselves? What kind of excuses do they use to not engage in the extra effort to become a citizen they wish to become and build the kind of a country that they want to create?
Diagnosis: United States of Amnesia – Absence of We the People
It all comes down to one thing, that I diagnose as Socio-political Amnesia, forgetting our own civic power. The U.S. Constitution starts with “We the People of the United States.” This civic power that each ordinary citizen has, is a responsibility and freedom at the same time. Jacob Needleman (2002) describes that this concept of civic is an important part thought through in the Constitution.
All the rights guaranteed by the Constitution were based on a vision of human nature that calls us to be responsible beings-responsible to something within ourselves that is higher than the all –too- human desired for personal gain and satisfaction; higher than the dictates of the purely theoretical or logical mind; higher than instinctive loyalties to family and tribe. This higher reality within the self is called many things- reason, conscience, Nature’s God. When this idea is left out, or treated as though its meaning were obvious, then the ideals of independence and liberty lose their power and truth. They become mere names that mask the ever present tendency of nations and groups and individuals to seek only their own external and short-term advantages. (p. 10)
What was described in the Declaration of Independence as Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness seemed to have fallen down. Life turned into death at war, Liberty into free market (greed) and personal private freedom and the pursuit of Happiness has fallen into pleasure-seeking, by which I mean transient, short eye sighted personal satisfaction and materialism.
The amnesia goes deep and people seem to have forgotten who they are. C. G. Jung (1983) describes this:
the construction of a collectively suitable persona means a formidable concession to the external world, a genuine self- sacrifice which drives the ego straight into identification with the persona, so that people really do exist who believe they are what they pretend to be. (p. 95)
As those principles are presented in the Declaration of the Independence, this means different things, one’s identity and potential of a citizen power is given an external meaning. With this deepened amnesia, there is a blockage between their potential and what they are taught in a society to believe who they are. Because of this collective amnesia as a society, the force to make us stay asleep people are losing civic power and freedom that is described by Nader as “ ‘participation in power’, said the Roman orator Cicero” (cited in Nader, 2004, p. 1).
It is not about leaders that we elect, but electing ourselves into the process of remembering and becoming a citizen that is described as “We the People” and recover the real meaning of freedom. Americans need collective cultural therapy and I find Nader’s campaign as becoming a kind of social movement that awakens the civic mind and fills the gap between individual potential and manipulated identity.
Austrian philosopher, Rudolf Steiner (1955/1986) asserts:
A special kind of moral principle is involved when the commandment does not announce itself to us through outer authority, but from within ourselves; we may call this moral autonomy. We then hear within ourselves the voice to which we must submit. The expression of this voice is conscience. Moral progress occurs when a person does not simply accept the commandment of an outer or an inner authority as a motive for action, but rather strives to see why any given principle should work as a motive. (pp. 145-146)
This is collective cultural therapy and through this process, one can recover one’s own voice.
Depth Psychological Orientation:
By working with Jung’s concepts, such as Self and ego, I will bridge the active citizenship that Ralph Nader describes with the deeper psycho-social analysis, specifically by redefining active citizenship using Jung’s terms as a state of Ego-self axis one establishes, which Edward Edinger (1972/1992) elucidates:
The ego-Self axis represents the vital connection between ego and Self that must be relatively intact if the ego is to survive stress and grow. This axis is the gateway or path of communication between the conscious personality and the archetypal psyche. Damage to the ego-Self axis impairs leading to alienation of the ego from its origin and foundation. (p. 38)
Imagination and images are the language of the Self. We the people identified in the Constitution is a communication of consciousness. This pathway is often blocked, with voices from the Self (imagination and images) being replaced with commercial ads and chattering of news from the media. This replaced voice makes us identify solely with meaning (ego, persona, a role) that is given from outside. The gap between ego and the self become larger as the gap between Washington DC and ordinary citizens become larger.
To shrink this gap, what James Hillman (1975) presented, four ideas for “the soul making process: personifying” (p. 4), “pathologizing” (p. 55), “psychologizing” (p. 123), and “dehumanizing” (p. 175) would be helpful for the treatment of elimination of the blockage that lies in the unconscious realm to recover one’s imagination, a language of the Self.
Therapeutic tools: Research methods
I will use a phenomenological approach in interviews, engaging people in a Socratic dialogue to foster inner dialogue within themselves. This way of dialogue would help them to see the underlying feelings, revealing an internalized critical voice, what was referred to as “cops in the head” (p. xx)- an internalized oppressed voice as was described in The Rainbow of Desire by Augusto Boal (1995) to prevent thinking for oneself. This way of phenomenological deep listening allows others to reveal themselves fully as they are, and relating to the others through their own experience and words rather than my words, and academic theories is my goal. I will bring immediate application through the translation of academic learning into the ground level experience and language (I will use the artistic avenue of the poetry slam to get a message out and invoke dialogue).
Cure- Awakening the Civic Mind
The purpose of this fieldwork is to engage citizens in creating true democracy, opening the system where the Self can enter as active agent without needing to compromise moral sense of civic service and becoming disconnected from the higher principle. Through engaging in this social movement one can transform oneself to become an active agent for real change, creating a true democracy.
Aymery, G. (May 19, 2008). Meeting Ralph Nader & Matt Gonzalez. Retrieved May 30, 2008 from http://www.swans.com/library/art14/ga251.html
Boal, A. (1995). The rainbow of desire: The Boal method of theatre and therapy (A. Jackson, Trans.). New York: Routeldge.
Edinger, E. F. (1992). Ego and archetype. Boston, MA: Shambhala Publishing. (Original work published 1972)
Hillman, J. (1975). Re-visioning psychology. New York: HarperCollins.
Jung, C. G. (1983). The essential Jung.(A. Storr, Ed.). New York: NJF Books.
Nader, R. (1991, February 16). Ralph Nader interview: Making government and business accountable. Retrieved May 30, 2008 from http://www.achievement.org/autodoc/page/nad0int-1
Nader, R. (2004). The good fight: Declare your independence & close the democracy gap. New York: 10 Regan Books.
Needleman, J. (2002). The American soul: Rediscovering the wisdom of the founders. New York: Penguin Group.
Steiner, R. (1986). Intuitive thinking as a spiritual path: A philosophy of freedom. MA: Anthroposophical Press. (Original work published 1955)
This piece was written in 2010.