How can one country have so much of the good and so much of the bad – all in one nation? Its very, very distressing.
The nation that gave us all that wonderful music, all that incredible literature, all those brilliant inventions, also gave us the Columbine legacy, which is playing out yet again, this time in Parkland, Florida.
Even that purveyor of bias, Fox News, laments that there have been 25 school shootings in the U.S. since the Columbine massacre in 1999 and 54 mass shootings since the turn of the century.
This is such a tragedy, and even the one closest to me at the moment, the knife murders amongst London teenagers, is dwarfed by this grievous madness, that makes me want to howl.
What is going on in America? How should we think about it? What is it?
Well, it’s easiest to say what it’s not: It isn’t immigrants; it isn’t Jihadists. It isn’t the simply the bonkers gun laws or the monstrous NRA, still projecting the insane idea that Americans need a militia in case Mad King George III wakes up and comes back to get them all. These unfortunately are just symptoms.
And it isn’t – I am afraid to say – mental health problems, although the perpetrators were undoubtedly mad at the time of committing the crimes. It is about madness, though, I suggest. We have to, I venture, not only think psychologically but systemically about these things.
And here it gets even worse. The US has had some of the best systemic thinkers in the world and no-one seems to be invoking their spirit. I am thinking of Milton Erikson, Harold Searles, Murray Bowen, Virginia Satir, Jay Hayley and Karl Whittaker. These people (and not only they) understood that the individual regularly carries the symptom for the group, and that if and only if only the group takes it back, can they get freed.
Acts like this suggest to me that the system has a message to the world which is not being paid attention to. In order to pay heed to messages coming from the ‘unconscious’ of a nation you need a psychohistorical approach. What does that mean? Well here is how I define it on my website:
- Psychohistory is a relatively new and controversial discipline that gives the past more sense and perspective by looking through the powerful lens of psychological knowledge.
- Psychohistory also explores how shifts in consciousness and national mind-sets create ways of thinking about the world.
- Psychohistory analyses societies rather than individuals. Sometimes it may highlight how people collectively collude to avoid “inconvenient truths” or protect a favourable identity.
- Psychohistory can sometimes find the missing piece in the puzzle or discover what an emerging zeitgeist might reveal.
- An evolutionary and crucial tool, it can analyse political systems and point towards a needed direction.
So how does psychohistory actually work? Again from the website:
- Psychohistory follows how individual attitudes shaped under stress or trauma morph into group psychopathology, which over time become crystallised as a group identity.
- Psychohistory reveals how groups tend to scapegoat voices that do not collude conform to consensus values.
- Psychohistory asks uncomfortable questions, such as: “Under what conditions would this crazy-seeming behaviour make sense?” An example is the outbreak of mutism among shell-shocked WW1 veterans: what they had witnessed was unspeakable, but they were treated as hysterical.
- Psychohistory employs systemic thinking over individualised apportioning of blame. How would it respond to the repeated murder of children in their schools by apparently mad individuals, for example? It might hear an expression of the problems of innocence and violence spoken by an unconscious but active instrument of the society.
Through such a lens one thing is very striking to me: the repeated murder of innocents. Twenty-five years ago, I wrote my first ever psychohistorical essay on the murder of baby James Bulger. I may dig it up again and republish it.
Then, I wondered if the message hidden in the tragedy was what we are as a society are doing to our innocence. In the US case of school shooting, I suspect there is something similar, but more historical that wants to speak its voice.
As US power is on the wain it must be time for some honest reflection. The USA was founded by narrow-minded Puritans; its wealth was largely created by the brutality of slavery; the domination of the land was established by genocide, which includes breaking every treaty ever made to the indigenous people. Take a trip to one off the reservations and get a whiff of the projected worthlessness into these once-dignified people: it’s very easy to feel.
Australia and Canada have made some small beginnings in acknowledging their brutal and violent pasts. America has not, while Britain is in danger of re-glorifying its colonial past. National grieving and monuments to arrogant folly need to be created in both countries.
In America, it is clear that this process cannot be delayed any longer and cannot be fixed through the false myth of individualism.
Wake up USA!