Posts Tagged ‘Obama’

Bias, Trayvon Martin, and Undercurrents in American Society

Bias, Trayvon Martin, and Undercurrents in American Society

Len Cruz, MD

“Every man has reminiscences which he would not tell to everyone but only his friends. He has other matters in his mind which he would not reveal even to his friends, but only to himself, and that in secret. But there are other things which a man is afraid to tell even to himself, and every decent man has a number of such things stored away in his mind.”  Fyodor Dostoyevsky 


The daughter of a friend of mine sent this photo from her mobile phone. It was a bumper sticker seen on an SUV in Raleigh, NC. My friend’s daughter, an African-American woman, is a graduate of a very prestigious North Carolina university and her younger sister is completing her sophomore year at Columbia University with plans to study abroad at the London School of Economics next year. Here is evidence of the deep undercurrents of of racial tension that persist in the United States of America.  These are undercurrents that can immediately redefine the conversation and put aside the many accomplishments of our sitting President and reduce the discourse to a racial slur.

A tinderbox seems on the verge of igniting with the shooting of an African-American teenager by a man engaged in some sort of neighborhood watch.  When the President said “If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon” it stirred even more fervent discourse with some accusing him of a making a divisive remark.  But in other parts of the world, the remark was a moment of humanity .

A Florida law initially provided a cover for George Zimmerman, the man who pulled the trigger. The law that is referred to as “Stand Your Ground” is allegedly the basis upon which the Sanford Police did not arrest Zimmerman who claimed he shot in self-defense.

According to Mother Jones, the provision of the Florida law that “…allows Florida residents to use deadly force against a threat without attempting to back down from the situation. (More stringent self-defense laws state that gun owners have “a duty to retreat” before resorting to killing.)” (

Here is where things become murky. I recommend you take a few minutes and visit a site available on the WEB where you can complete the “Implicit Bias Test” ( The Project Implicit site offers the following definition of an implicit stereotype, “An implicit stereotype is a stereotype that is powerful enough to operate without conscious control.” This provides a useful framework for exploring Trayvon Martin’s tragic death.

It would be helpful if all interested stakeholders would suspend judgment about the events of February 26, 2012. Meanwhile, there are lessons we can contemplate about unacknowledged stereotypes and the perils of crafting a statutory defense based on perceived threat. Most of us are likely to discover we have implicit bias in various areas. Jung’s use of word association tests were pioneering and continue to provide insights into bias.

As the drama in Sanford, Florida, unfolds, there are resonances of unconscious bias and aspects of shadow that are both individually and collectively provoked. I have gone back to watch the DVD from the Asheville Jung Center’s conference “Symbols and Individuation in Global Politics: The Case of Barack Obama” (null) The second DVD AJC #14 with Dr. Tom Singer provided a timely exploration of some of themes evoked by Trayvon Martin’s death and the reactions to it.

Dostoyevsky’s quote calls us all to the high call of pushing past our unacknowledged secrets that reside in the personal and collective unconscious and that populate the archetype of our shadow.

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President Obama: A Case Study of Opposites, Transcendence, & Mysterium Conjunctionis

Dr. Tom Singer will be one of the presenters for the conference being presented by the Asheville Jung Center titled, Symbols and Individuation in Global Politics: The Case of Barack Obama I recently posted a blog on the subject of the transcendent function and the notion that figures like Obama carry that function and various cultural complexes for the wider culture.  I am persuaded by the most recent cover of Newsweek, an American news magazine, that Dr. Singer is more right than wrong.  Below is the text of what appears on the cover: THE MAKING OF A TERRORIST-CODDLING WARMONGERING WALLSTREET-LOVING SOCIALISTIC GODLESS MUSLIM PRESIDENT* *who isn’t actually any of these things The dichotomized and clearly opposing characterizations of Obama underscores Tom Singer’s deep insights and dispels any remaining doubt I have about the validity of his construct.  The timing of that Newsweek cover, the week before our conference, reminds me of the synchronicity of things.  The fact that this president can be so deeply misunderstood and so confusedly characterized alarms me. Why alarm?  I remain convinced that individuation is one of the most important tasks to which a person can apply herself or himself.  The more individuated person will be capable of dynamically holding tensions such as those depicted on the cover of Newsweek.  The process of individuation improves the likelihood that there will be persons who recognize that from the depths of their unconscious there arise life affirming, inspiring, seemingly charmed currents but there also arise sinister, destructive, rejected forces.  These darker, unconscious forces often make themselves known through their projection upon others. So it should alarm us that the current president is such a figure who exposes the individual and collective capacity for projection.  Newsweek has drawn fire for this cover (FOX News). Of all things, FOX News, a news syndicate that has spared no opportunity to exploit the inflammatory rhetoric to oppose Obama, criticizes Newsweek for relying on such extreme and sensational epithets to sell magazines.  If FOX News had chosen to confront its own sensationalism, I would be more encouraged, but instead, it assailed Newsweek and the author for employing the same tactics it uses.  (Does anyone detect a bit of PROJECTION?) There is less danger for the public to be overtaken, deceived, or led astray by projections when persons get on with the business of their own individuation.  To that end, Analytical Psychology has something to offer.  The focus of Analytical Psychology is likely to be the individual and yet, the subject of Analytical Psychology will also remain the collective, that  infinitely larger field with which the individual’s unconscious resonates and sometimes discords.  The harmonics between individual and collective are the roots of the notes that every single person is given to sing. Mr. Obama appears to have a near endless capacity to inflame such opposing polarities (see the actual cover at  In Psychology and Alchemy (1955) and Mysterium Conjunctionis (1956) Jung recognized that the substratum of the alchemist’s efforts was the archetypal union of opposites by means of integrating opposing polarities. I am more eager than before for the September 10, 2010 conference where these themes will be explored.  Registration is still open at Len Cruz, MD

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Global Politics, Obama, & Transcendent Function: A Jungian Perspective?

Share your thoughts! In September the Asheville Jung Center has ambitious plans to host a conference titled “Symbols and Individuation in Global Politics”.  In preparation, I’ve been reading  Anyaten Sen’s “Identity and Violence”, Ortega y Gassett, and a panel discussion by Singer, Meador, and Samuels (Panel: The transcendent function in society) from the April 2010 issue of Journal of Analytical Psychology.  It is a thought provoking article. Let me begin with a question.  Do Jungians and the field of Analytical Psychology  have something unique to offer in the arena of politics, political science, and political discourse?  Of course, Jungians are entitled, indeed obligated, to participate in the political process.  But is there a Jungian perspective on these matters? Singer, Meador, and Samuels examined the transcendent function and specifically explore the proposition that certain individuals (for example, President Obama) carry the transcendent function in ways that may promote resolution of cultural complexes.  Such figures may help society unify apparent opposites. The transcendent function is that psychological mechanism through which apparent opposites are unified.  Jung compared the transcendent function to its mathematical equivalent: “There is nothing mysterious or metaphysical about the term “transcendent function.”  it means a psychological function comparable in it’s way to a mathematical function[1] of the same name, which is a function of real and imaginary numbers.  The psychological “transcendent function” arises from the union of conscious and unconscious content.” (The Transcendent Function, Jung 1959) Individuals tend to identify with one aspect of a polarity while relegating the other aspect to the unconscious.  The transcendent function is at work when the individual reconciles such opposing elements in their psyche.  There is a distinguished history of transcendent function within political theory.  Hegel’s dialectical approach proposed a such a motor of history and politics that consisted of an endless clash of opposites resolved by a synthesis.  His use of the word aufhebung, often translated as sublated, connotes abolished, preserved, and transcended in a single word.  Hegel may have intended to ambiguate the idea.  This is reminiscent of Jung’s characterization of symbol as “the best possible expression for a complex fact not yet clearly apprehended by consciousness.” During the election cycle of 2008 there appeared to be a collective stirring of such dialectal tensions.  There seemed to be opposing forces marshaling everywhere.   There were rabid gun rights advocates who seemed to feel they were under siege and  liberal activists who vilified the previous administration as a reign of terror worth of epic tales like “Lord of the Rings” or “Star Wars”.  Countless other examples could be cited of seemingly deep rifts that were more evident during the 2008 election season.   An unlikely figure, Barack Obama, emerged from this milieu and galvanized people across the political spectrum.  Thomas Singer opined that President Obama “…has the potential to embody in his being a transcendent function that might point to real reconciliation and healing of the entrenched cultural complexes that divide Black and White communities in America… Some gifted individuals …actually carry the transcendent function for the group…” (Singer 2006, pp. 26-27) There is little doubt that Barack Obama demonstrates the capacity to arouse strong passion.  He resonates with people from different countries and cultures.  People are drawn to him.  Celebrity accounts for some of this allure.  When President Obama visited Asheville earlier this year, even his ardent detractors were caught up in the excitement about sightings around town.  His celebrity seemed to dampen the usual fiery discourse seeming to unify opposing parties.  However, this should not be confused with reconciliation or the exercise of the transcendent function. There may something useful in considering leaders like President Obama as carriers of the transcendent function since this serves to remind us of the enormous value of transcending any opposites, whether intra-psychic or within the crucible of socio-cultural differences.  But there are other reasons for caution. Displacing individual psychological functions onto persons like Obama are a form of infantile wish fulfillment of the sort Freud exposed in  “The Future of an Illusion”.  Individuation is personal, as is the transcendent function that supports it.  Extrapolating to the realm of politics imperils the individuation process.  Psychological contents that we project, especially upon charismatic leaders like Obama, are robbed of some of their energy.  This can reduce the chances that they will break through to consciousness.  Cultural complexes are not exempt from such obfuscating maneuvers. The individual is summoned to use the transcendent function as a vehicle for perpetual growth and adaptation. Logicians might object to the idea of leaders carrying the transcendent function because it reflects an error of logical type.  A classic example of such an error may be helpful. “This statement is false.” (If the statement is true, it is false, and if it is false, then it is true, and so on.) Such paradoxes are resolved by recognizing that the actual truth value of the statement is of a different logical type than the statement itself. A similar disquiet emerges from the effort to extrapolate a function of the individual psyche (the transcendent function) to the sociopolitical arena.  The truth and explanatory power of the transcendent function when applied to the individual is different than when it is applied to the polis. The two are of different logical types. (see Russell & Whitehead or Bateson). Whether or not President Obama carries the transcendent function for cultural complexes he clearly activates psychological elements for individuals and for the masses.  It is an intriguing idea to consider what role figures such as Obama play for society at large and individuals in their own political (& psychological) development We are eager to generate discussion about the symbols and and other topics related to global politics as we approach the September conference.  What do you think about the proposition that President Obama carries the transcendent function for various cultural complexes?  We encourage you to share your thoughts concerning what (if anything) Jungians have to offer politics and political science. Len Cruz
[1] For an infinite series a1 + a2 + a3 +⋯, a quantity sn = a1 + a2 +⋯+ an, which involves adding only the first n terms, is called a partial sum of the series. If sn approaches a fixed number S as n becomes larger and larger, the series is said to converge. In this case, S is called the sum of the series. An infinite series that does not converge is said to diverge. In the case of divergence, no value of a sum is assigned.  An example of a convergent series is 1 + ½ + ¼ + ⅛ … that converges upon the solution 2.

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