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An evolving psychodrama in three locations: US, Iraq and South Africa
The world should be profoundly grateful to George Bush for his speech to the General Assembly of the United Nations (12th September 2002). He uses all the right words and phrases. He appeals to all the right principles. The world indeed needs such leadership. The UN does indeed need to get its act together. But the one thing that George Bush does not consciously understand at all is that his words are really addressed to himself and the US. However, unconsciously, it is most profoundly the case that he is truly trying to tell Americans what they most need to hear.
What we are seeing is an immense psychodrama being played out on the world stage. Through Bush, Americans are finally recognizing the need for "regime change". They have not yet understood that the message is addressed to themselves -- that it is their own "regime" that needs changing. Basically, for a culture obsessed with diet, they have not recognized that they need to shift from an overly rich, and unsustainable, regime of natural resources to a leaner healthier diet. But Bush is certainly using the right words in sensitizing them to such a possibility - that America needs a "new diet". As so many American psychotherapists stress, the cure we most strongly recommend for others is often the one we unconsciously know that we most need to apply to ourselves. The psychodrama is all about projection of an American internal crisis onto Iraq.
This example makes the basic point of the conceptual disconnect between the UN's Summit on Sustainable Development (Joburg, 2002) and the focus on Iraq as articulated in the UN General Assembly speech in the same period. The challenge is to decode the other messages of the psychodrama associated with Bush's speech presented below (**). Only by doing so can we determine what sort of help does "US" really need?
To assist in this process, we need to review the symbols used in order to distinguish what he is really saying from what he appears to be saying:
Saddam Hussein: He is presented as a totally evil personality against whom every opprobrium from Bush is justified. But if Bush is in effect talking to himself, this Saddam (after being a friend of the US for long years) is now in large part a construct of Bush's imagination - the ultimate dominating tyrant from his subconscious and that of every sensitive American. He is the archetypal cruel father figure much analyzed by psychotherapists - and present in every personality. He is the strong, cruel streak well-known in the American psyche - the ultimate bandit from Bush's Texan "bad lands". Many around the world have been exposed to the depredations of this figure, although necessarily few in the US are conscious of him. As for any maturing man, such a cruel and oppressive Dad evokes profound responses. The beauty of the psychodrama that Bush has set up is emphasized by the fact that Dad lives in Bag-Dad - a place consequently calling for a crusade to gain control over him and to eliminate the threat he is believed to constitute. Saddam is proving to be an ideal protagonist in the maturation of America -- through the Crusade to Bag-Dad.
Weapons of mass destruction (WMD): Bush is extremely clear about the threat to the world of the WMD that Saddam may possess. Many developed an understanding of the explosive risk of destruction and annihilation associated with this threat during the Cold War. This threat conditioned international policies for decades. Saddam may indeed be a rogue element in a vulnerable world society. But there are other kinds of "weapons of mass destruction" that do not act so instantaneously and are more insidiously corrosive of the ability of the planet to sustain life. Rather than destroying the molecular bonds of mass, these destroy the patterns that connect systems vital to life and civilization. They include: strip-mining, forest clearing, urban sprawl, green-field construction, ecosystem degradation, air pollution, exploitation of nonrenewable resources, unconstrained fertility, exploitation, cultural homogenization, etc. What Bush is really saying is that the world needs to be concerned about these WMD - and here he is unconsciously addressing his words to the multinationals whose operations are intrinsic to the American Way of Life, and in which his family and colleagues have extensive involvement (Carlyle Group, etc). It is no wonder that he did not dare to go to Joburg where these issues were openly debated. The psychological shock would have been too great.
Weapons inspection: Bush's focus is on inspecting Saddam's place for hidden weapons. For a Freudian, this is a clear concern that any growing adult has for the mysterious nature of Daddy's penis. Has Dad got an enormous hidden penis? How dangerous is it? Why does he hide it? What does he intend to do with it? Is it bigger than mine? Numerous efforts to locate the penis have been in vain, although there are reports and rumours from people who have seen evidence of its existence. What is so galling is that he may be making it bigger month by month! He may suddenly let it loose! But what Bush is unconsciously saying to Americans is that it is time to be aware of the destructive capacity of American WMD - of what it is insidiously doing to the planet and its capacity to sustain life through reserving 25% of the world's resources for 2% of its population. Unique among world statesmen, he is calling for a heightened level of collective awareness on the part of the American people. The key to the psychodrama is that Bush, and his spin doctors, are holding up Iraq to American awareness as a magical mirror in which to see the ugliness of the American impact on the planet -- a mirror which protects them from being benumbed by the evil in American society. Admirably he is setting new standards by which he wants America to be judged.
Direct action: Faced with such a perceived threat to the American Way of Life, the justification for pre-emptive direct action to constrain Dad and his penis becomes unquestionable. This new pre-emptive foreign policy was presented by Bush on 20 September 2002. Saddam's WMD has to be "rooted out". The time for patience has run out - and the prevarications of those who advise against such invasive explorations need to be set aside. These are the strong words that were needed in Joburg -- and could not be spoken by America. Bush, through Iraq, is making it clear that the time for action is now. As his principal ally, Tony Blair, declared:
Again however it is a real challenge for Bush -- through action on Iraq as a surrogate -- to make such logic meaningful to Americans with respect to unconscious recognition that it is indeed time for them to act in support of sustainable development on the planet rather than purely in their own selfish interests as a rogue state that has been progressively defining itself as an international outlaw. For many national security is indistinguishable from global security. It is unfortunate that it is necessary to pick on a small guy to bring the lesson home to one's own people. But maybe through the tragedy of Iraq (and what its horrors will do to the American psyche) Americans may be persuaded that it is primarily they themselves who need to change, rather than Saddam and the Iraqis. Bush is making it clear that the time for words is over. He is courageously showing how others should act in response to the evils they perceive in the world in the light of their cultures.
Symbolism: In pursuing direct action into Iraq, American style, Bush needs to be attentive to possible confusion of symbols. Many Americans would follow him through his identification with action-man Harrison Ford in Raiders of the Lost Ark -- seeking to recapture the Holy Grail and protect it from evil hands. However Bush's many oil-corporation links taint this image -- confusinjg his motives with those of the mad fascist in the movie -- engaged in the same search for personal wealth and immortality, with which many americans would also identify. Is he Harrison Ford acting for humanity or is he the mad fascist acting out of total self-interest? Or perhaps Americans would like to see their president as the ancient Knight Templar in the movie -- guarding the ark of democracy and freedom in the movie and waiting to pass on the banner to future civilizations if they pass the test? As in the movie, Bush has a major problem in making the right choice for himself and Americans -- the rapture he covets can easily be confused with his rapture for oil wealth. The movie nicely portrayed the consequences of the wrong choice.
United Nations (UN): This body to whom Bush made his speech, is the world community of sovereign powers, principles and human values. It might be termed the House of Resolutions where the collective will of the planet is mobilized. It is this body that has long articulated what needs to be done in a plethora of resolutions and through a multitude of institutions. Little effective action has been taken on such resolutions. Bush was absolutely right to challenge it to fulfill its mandate and to ensure that collective action takes place immediately. However, in vigorously exhorting them to new collective action, Bush was again speaking to himself and to Americans -- for it is they who have proven least able to undertake the kinds of action called for by the collective conscience of humanity. Indeed it is under Bush that international legal instruments to enable such action have been set aside. That community of international conscience even rejected the US in relation to human rights (Durban, 2001) and it was quite clear that the US sought to privilege itself in relation to that community through disassociating itself from the initiatives of sustainable development (Joburg, 2002) - except when American interests could profit through dubious partnerships (such as the that between UNICEF and McDonald's) . Few have any illusions about Bush's appreciation of the UN. Indeed his ultimatum was part of the pattern of the psychodrama, seeking the blessing of his peers - whilst threatening to "go it alone", like any teenager engaged in a dubious enterprise. Again he is courageously showing how any country that acquires sufficient power should act uncompromisingly to further its interests whatever the views of others. Politically correct from other planets may welcome such firm guidance to acceptable behaviour by the powerful on Earth.
In breach of resolutions: Bush is absolutely right to indicate that it is totally unacceptable to the international community of civilized peoples that Saddam should have flouted so many Security Council resolutions. But again, unconsciously, Bush is really talking to the American people. Through its actions, the US is in breach of numerous treaties and resolutions -- including its payment of arrears. But as a member of the Security Council it has been able to reframe resolutions in favour of itself or its allies - to the disadvantage of others. More significantly it has blocked other resolutions and actions - notably withholding support at a time when the tragic massacre in Rwanda could have been avoided. The resources devoted to the action against Iraq are effectively a similar withholding of assistance to the 14-30 million dying of AIDS and starvation in Africa. Bush should be applauded for insisting on adherence to UN resolutions. Their applicability to the actions of US and its allies needs work however. Hopefully the breakthrough will come as a result of his leadership. Certainly valuable international legal precedents are being set for dealing with other countries that have failed to act on resolutions addressed specifically to them.
Getting the collective act together: Bush enjoins the UN to get its act together and act responsibly in face of a real threat to the world. His words are much to be applauded. The UN has demonstrated decreasing capacity to act effectively on anything - and notably with respect to peace-keeping. However the question is why has it proven so ineffective? What kind of "integration" and "coordination" is called for to interrelate so many disparate agendas to get the international community's act together? Is it the lockstep, "do what I say" approach so strongly advocated by Bush? Or is it some kind of laissez-faire "ecology" of approaches that is characteristic of those who rely on the market to ensure an appropriate approach? Or is it some kind of emergent order that has been scoped out by the best of American studies into the challenge of complexity? But again, unconsciously, Bush's words are addressed primarily to Americans who have somehow cast themselves in the role of privileged outsiders who do not need to be constrained by complexity - especially when bombs and missiles are so much simpler as a low risk solution that is also significantly rewarding to the US military-industrial complex.
Petroleum: The one thing that Bush did not mention in his speech was of course oil. Unfortunately everyone is aware of the intense interest of American oil consortia in that region -- indeed the "bonanza" that awaits the victors is openly discussed in the American media. Many are aware of the number of former oil executives now in positions of power in the US administration - and of the extensive interests of the Bush family in the oil business. Many are aware of the strategic advantages to America of control of Arab oil fields. But of course unconsciously the problem is that Daddy has this underground, secret treasure - the source of all his power. And America desperately needs it if it is to sustain the unconstrained, playboy lifestyle -- into the foreseeable future -- on which its fragile cultural identity depends. Bush cannot do anything about this substance dependency - it is burnt into the American soul. There is barely the faintest chance of a "12-step" AA-type program with an initial affirmation "My name is US. I am an abuser of natural resources". The failure of the "wars" on substance abuse have shown the resistance to such recognition. That is why Bush has to lead his people to war. If the war is ugly enough and enough Iraqis can be slaughtered - then Americans may be able to see through their gas haze to the horrors of their energy dependency. Basically Bush is taking them on a heroic quest to bring them to their senses. This is a major act of leadership - but it is a pity that it is the Iraqis that must pay the blood price of American learning. But he is setting a historic precedent for the kind of noble sacrifice Americans will in future be prepared to pay for the learning of other maturing cultures.
Washing-Town: Bush's challenge to the UN has been articulated in the unique environment of Washing-Town. This could be understood as Whitewash Central - the place where values are laundered, transmuting naked corporate greed into the highest moral principal. It is the place where dirty, covert values get made pristine and transparent. Having set aside outmoded human rights constraints, Bush has been successfully able to position America on a new moral high ground in speaking to a UN that is dissolute in comparison - compounding its irresolution. In doing so, Bush again performs a great unconscious service to Americans. Under his administration the blatant nature of corporate irresponsibility has become apparent (Enron, WorldCom, etc) - despite the self-regulatory role he sought for such corporations in responsible sustainable development. There is a splendid symmetry to the psychodrama in that the attack on Iraq is an attack on the land where accounting was first developed. The involvement of his administration with such corporations, and the stark contrast with his reputation as a born again Christian (starting his office day with a prayer meeting) have drawn these contradictions to the attention of many ordinary Americans whose livelihoods and savings have been affected in ways reminiscent of those in developing countries. Bush is actively helping them realize the inconsistencies of policies and the reality of their implementation -- and why this provokes those in other countries to such hostility to the laundered values purveyed by American official discourse.
Moral combat against evil: There is no question but that Saddam is truly evil. As God's repeatedly blessed people, Americans necessarily come from a unique moral high ground and have a solemn duty to purge the world of any such evil. But unconsciously Bush is also performing the unique service of helping them to recognize that that are in some measure responsible for that evil -- however systematically American culture enables them to deny it. This is extremely courageous for the leader of a culture that funded both Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden for many years -- and is renowned for its propagation worldwide of media violence, video-pornography, and the sub-cultures that revel in what others perceive as evil. History may judge Bush as the first of a new generation of world leaders to put evil back on the agenda as the principal determinant of national and international policy. In rejoining UNESCO the US may be able to take the lead in generating world-wide programmes against evil of every form -- including that in American society. He is courageously developing the moral standards against which societies should in future be judged. His initiative, and the reactions to it in the psychodrama, will help the world to recognize the true face of evil.
Crusaders and Jihadis: Bush is the first leader of the 21st century to introduce some symbolic drama into international causes. Launching a new crusade against the forces of evil draws on a rich mythological history - as well as on some great movies. This gives a much-needed focus for young people everywhere. It is such mythologizing of international action that is vital to giving international strategy some soul - a missing ingredient in the soulless nature of international institutions and their strategies in a secular world. But again, it is to the American people that this call really goes out - to draw them into a vast social project to remedy the ills of society and of the planet. The enemy he is unable to point to - except through the distorting mirror of Iraq - is the evil within American society. Ironically so many of the American Christian right that support his foreign policies have launched such crusades within the US - but with only limited success. So, like many in the past, it is more convenient to use enemies elsewhere to evoke the kind of solidarity that is associated with a healthier society. Hence the success of 9/11 and its remembrance. But the real challenge is to learn to respect and honour those who think and believe otherwise. It is ironic that a multi-culural society such as America has to learn this lesson over again. Bush is to be honoured for leading the crusade to meet the Jihadis who will help to bring the lesson home to Americans.
Shepherd of the international community: Like any great statesman, especially one of profound Christian inspiration, Bush is emerging as a shepherd to the peoples of the world, as well as to Americans. He is a true defender of the faith. A wise shepherd knows how to guide his woolly-headed flock to greener pastures and away from ever-lurking dangers. In this arduous task he depends in part on his control of his two faithful sheepdogs -- one to travel enthusiastically far and wide to bring in the errant sheep, the other to fiercely guard the spiritual homeland at any cost. Inspired by the "carbon credit" initiative that was a breakthrough for emission control in sustainable development, Bush has been remarkably creative in developing a human rights analogue to assist in bringing the poorly coordinated flock together -- granting potential coalition allies what might be termed "carbonization credits" (or, less attractively, "massacre credits") so that they can deal with impunity with problematic groups in their own, or neighbouring, countries.
The above symbolic elements are required to decode George Bush's speech to the UN General Assembly (see below**). Essentially he is doing a most welcome job. It is just the focus and direction that is faulty. He needs help in correcting the obsessive nature of the focus and his unchecked tendency to tunnel vision. If all else fails, the encounter of the American people with the Iraqi's will provide the corrective shock. Bush is to be hailed for providing the Americans with such therapeutic leadership.
This work is licenced under a creative commons licence.