Posts Tagged ‘Transcendent function’

Putting Aside Childish Things: Enantiodromia From Ancient Israel to the 2012 Presidential Election

Some of Barak Obama’s original supporters have grown disenchanted. The depth of disappointment moved inversely with the collective appetite to make him a king and savior savior during the 2008 election cycle. The combined effects of the economic maelstrom that began in 2008 and collective, infantile hopes are now apparent in the rabid disappointment.  The impulse to select a scapegoat is understandable. What, if any, insights does archetypalal psychology offer during the upcoming United States election cycle?

Obama burst on the national scene out of nowhere galvanizing the US electorate and people in other countries.  He was vested him with symbolic, transformative qualities that few leaders achieve.  Dr Tom Singer proposed suggests Obama carried the “transcendent function” for our collective psyche.   Obama’s own mixed heritage of  Caucasian and African American, Christian with a Muslim background, Ivy league educated but upwardly mobile with humble roots made him a suitable figure to bear the transcendent function.  Candidate Barack Hussein Obama was a lightning rod whose power arced through the electorate and through people across the planet in almost palpable ways.


Howver,President Barack Obama inherited an economy mired in debt, slow growth, and unforeseen consequences that resulted from complex investment schemes that went awry.  The confluence of these forces and our collective hopes for deliverance are now exposing the enantiodromia present in the prersent-day political fervor.  The pall upon the age of American expansionism (some prefer imperialism) is made worse by the naive hopes we projected upon the man who would be king.  Something shifted and the choruses of “yes we can”, reminiscent of Reagan’s  “it’s morning in America”, began to sound like a vengeful mob.

The Old Testament prophet warned of the perils of turning away from Yahweh in favor of a king (1 Samuel 8).  The nation of Israel wanted a leader, they wanted to be like other nations.


Samuel issued one final warning (1 Samuel 12:14) “If God’s people will remain faithful to God’s Commandments” and if they would preserve Yaweh as their ruler, God would do great things.  Samuel proclaimed that God’s people must not abdicate their responsibility simply because a king had been appointed.

Modern history offers another example in the rise and fall of the Third Reich.  The collective despair of a defeated Germanic people, burdened with impossible war reparations, was transformed by a charismatic leader who restored hope and purpose. The degree to which the German people invested exaggerated hopes in their Fürher (leader) correlated with their subsequent disappointment and shame.

Let me be clear, I am not asserting a link between Obama and Hitler, but others have.  I am proposing that collectively charismatic figures activate complex tendencies to project the wish for deliverance and the fear of evil rulership.

Time and again we witness how unbridled hope precedes a fall.  When emotional investment in being “saved” crests, like it did in 2008, we should prepare to be overtaken by a trough of disappointment.  From Heraclitus to Jung this principle of enantiodromia reappears again and again.  The pendulum swings swings back, again and again.  Here, archetypal psychology offers guidance through the recognition that collective influences are at play and through the possibilities provided by the transcendent function.

Obama became an icon, one who delivers.  Yeshua, a name used by Messianic Jews and certain Christian sects in place of Jesus, means “one who delivers“.  Strains of this run throughout Judeo-Christian culture and the Western tradition.  While the the duties of the President of the United States allowed Obama to place his hands on some of the levers of this world, his election did not imbue him with Yahweh’s power.  It barely equipped him to play a convincing Oz.  The last 2 1/2 years of proven that he neither governs the world nor can he  (or anyone) sustain the illusion of such a reign.

Perhaps some of the malaise and disappointment being expressed can be accounted to Obama but such disappointment can also become an invitation to recover the extreme projections we placed on him.   Perhaps we can admit our role in the outcome.  Instead of placing the sin of naive, exaggerated hopes upon a scapegoat (President Obama) let advance a more transcendent, individuated perspective.  Let’s admit the part we play in this and similar political dramas.

Regardless of one’s political leanings, the tendency to project hopes on a “führer” leader contributes to the subsequent clamor and complaint.   We’ve yet to learn this lesson.  Our individual work can help us pull the reins when exaggerated hopes of deliverance surge.  And when our exaggerated anger and disappointment surges we can remember that we paved the way.  Archetypal psychology frames these dramas at the personal and collective levels.  Here we a Jungian perspective has something timely and universal to offer.


I invite you to watch the conference on President Obama that was placed on sale this weekend in light of the current election cycle.  Look for examples in the present race to select a Republican candidate of the impulse to project exaggerated hopes on successive individual candidates first Palin, then Bachman, and most recently Perry.  Consider that with each overstated hope emerges the seed of later disappointment.  Then consider how these outer narratives can in-“form” a more integrated, mature engagement with the world and politics.

Don’t miss the sale (

To candidate Obama I hope he can maintain sobriety. May he be mindful of Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer ” God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”.

Those who cherish archetypal psychology might become purveyors of a new “golden mean” stirred by the cause of integration and individuation.  Share your thoughts with others (in this blog) and elsewhere in the months ahead.

– Len Cruz, MD

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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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