Our Collective Psychosis: A Review Of Paul Levy’s “Dispelling Wetiko”
By Carolyn Baker
If ever there was a time when the turning inward of self-reflection was of critical importance, it is now, in our present catastrophic epic.
~Paul Levy: Dispelling Wetiko: Breaking The Curse Of Evil
Paul Levy is not a Jungian analyst, but rather, a brilliant writer and artist who has not only studied Jungian psychology, but lived its principles amid unimaginable suffering and inexplicable joy. At his website and in his writings he struggles to make sense of what he calls “our collective psychosis,” and teach us how we can heal ourselves and our culture. In 2006 he wrote The Madness Of George Bush: A Reflection Of Our Collective Psychosis in which he “analyzes the current state of our world as if it is a mass shared dream all 6.4 billion of us are collaboratively dreaming up into materialization.” According to Levy, leaders like Bush act out the most toxic aspects of our culture and project both their own and our shadow on the rest of the world. (The term “shadow” will be explored momentarily.)
In Dispelling Wetiko, Levy dives deep into the wounds of American culture and assists the reader in recognizing and healing them within oneself and in the community. “Wetiko,” a Native American word, simply means “a diabolically wicked person or spirit who terrorizes others by means of evil acts.”(3) Levy names the collective psychosis as “malignant egophrenia” which he defines as a condition in which the human ego is estranged from the deeper Self. The Self, according to Jung, is the divine within or that part of the psyche that is eternal and connected with something greater than the rational mind and ego. A principal aspect of Jungian psychology was and is the establishment of a relationship between the ego and the Self in order to transform consciousness and enhance wholeness. This requires a journey into the unconscious and most importantly, encountering the shadow and its projections.
The disease of “malignant egophrenia” (ME) is also the disease of industrial civilization, an economic, political, and social arrangement which requires violence to maintain itself. Every inhabitant of industrial civilization is infected with the ME disease, but Levy notes that “full blown” Wetikos “are not in touch with their own humanity and therefore can’t see the humanity in others.” (13)
The acronym, “ME” is certainly no accident because malignant egophrenia naturally causes psychic vision to focus on “me” and my needs rather than more broadly on the rest of the world in addition to me. When we are unwittingly victims and carriers of the ME disease, we perpetuate the collective psychosis and the phenomenal evil of which it is capable.
In today’s milieu the use of the word “evil” is avoided by many who bristle at what they assume are its religious undertones. They prefer instead to use words like “misguided,” “fallacious,” “perverse,” or “odious,” but certainly not “evil.” Yet do those words accurately describe the atrocities against the earth and against our own species such as: the Sandy Hook massacre; the carnage of terrorism; the bloodbaths of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars; drone attacks on innocent civilians; human trafficking; the institutionalized sexual abuse of children by Roman Catholic and other clergy; the rampant assaults on the earth and humans by hydraulic fracturing; the cover-up of the severity of the Fukushima nuclear power plant accident; the massive, rampant, institutionalized corruption of Wall St. and corporate capitalism worldwide? Evil is the only appropriate term for these abhorrent acts, and according to Levy:
Our lack of imagination for the evil existing in potential in humanity is a direct reflection of a lack of intimacy with our own potential for evil, which further serves to enable the malevolence of wetiko to have nearly free rein in our world. We can’t afford to have a concept of evil that is too small. (14)
In other words, part of the reason we are where we are in human history is that we have not imagined the scope of evil that humans can fall prey to.
And while it is important to name evil in the world, its eradication begins with ourselves. We need to become intimately acquainted with our own shadow and the difference between what Jung called the daemon in us and the demon.
“The daemonic,” says Levy, “is the urge in every human being to affirm itself, assert itself, and perpetuate itself; it is the voice of the generative process within an individual.” (16) Moreover, the channels available to us in industrial civilization for utilizing and fulfilling the daemonic are denied at worst and stifled at best. However, if the daemonic is not honored and treated as sacred, it becomes demonic and destructive. Thus, loving our creativity and nurturing it is an enormous asset in transforming both internal and external darkness.
Our greatest protection, according to Levy, is when we are in touch with our true nature, our inherent wholeness which Jung called the Self. The real “cure” for wetiko from Levy’s perspective is a radical shift in consciousness and an awareness that “there is no place to take refuge, except in the true nature of our being.” (40) The result is a new kind of logic that knows that interdependence, unlimited wholeness, and the unity of all things constitutes the framework of a new paradigm that liberates us from the old story of industrial civilization and signals the termination of our engagement with the collective psychosis.
From the Jungian perspective, humans possess a personal unconscious but are also part of a collective unconscious, and according to Levy:
Whenever the contents of the collective unconscious become activated, they have an unsettling effect on the conscious mind of everyone. When this psychic dynamic is not consciously metabolized, not just within an individual but collectively, the mental state of the people as a whole might well be compared to a psychosis. Jung never tired of warning that the greatest danger that threatens humanity is the possibility that millions of us can fall into our unconscious together and reinforce each other’s blind
spots, feeding a contagious collective psychosis in which we unwittingly become complicit in supporting the insanity of endless wars; this is unfortunately an exact description of what is currently happening.(47)
Another way of viewing the dispelling of wetiko is that each of us must “un-crazy” ourselves in a world in which we are engulfed in a psychic epidemic that appears totally normal to its victims. In my recent article “Maintaining Mental Health In The Age Of Madness,” I argued that the mental health community is also a casualty of the collective psychosis and remains so embedded in it that it has become yet another “carrier” of the disease, with little to offer those infected by it.
While we can engage in endless analyses of the external darkness, how do we bring the light of consciousness to the darkness within each of us? Fortunately Levy devotes a long and illuminating chapter to working with our own shadow which is the starting point for dispelling wetiko. “Self-reflection,” he says, “is not only the most beneficial response to evil, it is in fact the only response where we have any real influence or control.” (159)
But what is the shadow? According to Levy, it is “typically conceived of as the underdeveloped, undesirable, and inferior parts of our personality; the aspects of ourselves which we repress the most; it is the part of ourselves we are least proud of and want to hide from others. It is the ‘other’ in ourselves.” (86) Essentially, the shadow is the part of us that we disown by saying, “that’s not me.” While we are excoriating some president or nation for perpetuating endless wars for territory or resources, we fail to notice the part of ourselves that is greedy, grasping, or terrified of not being able to perpetuate a lifestyle to which we have become accustomed. Or, perhaps I am working with a like-minded group of people I consider my peers, yet I find that one person irritates me inordinately. The easiest method of dealing with my irritation is to make it all about the other person. The more difficult path is to explore what buttons within myself the other person is pushing. How are their irritating qualities mirroring some part of me? And in fact, what is my part in the conflict?
When we do not develop a relationship with the shadow, we end up projecting it outward—a phenomenon that is at the root of the ME or wetiko disease. While it may be easy to identify the shadow projections of the rich and powerful and how they blame “the evil-doers” or a particular ethnicity for the world’s ills, it is more difficult to recognize shadow projections within ourselves. To help illumine us, Levy offers assistance in how we can recognize and befriend the shadow and at the same time, “become more immune to moral decay and psychic infections such as wetiko.” He emphasizes that “If we learn to deal with our own shadow, we have truly done something real and of significant benefit for the whole world.”(99)
As we wake up to how we are participating in the insanity, we are more available to connect with others, even if they do not completely agree with us. In a sense, we become as Levy says, “islands of sanity in an ocean of madness. Over time the islands in our archipelago of sanity join with each other and form continents, so to speak, as we dispel the madness in the field.” (178)
In this regard, I high recommend Dispelling Wetiko for use by a group of individuals waking up to our collective psychosis who want to support themselves and each other in healing from it. While the author is deeply immersed in Jungian psychology and terminology, the book includes an extensive and very complete glossary of terms used throughout the book so that the reader is always able to orient to the author’s concepts.
Our species is standing at a threshold in which malignant egophrenia and its addiction to pure reason and control at the expense of intuition and compassion is being annihilated by the collapse of the nightmarish systems we have created that are killing us and the planet. We live in a time of endings/beginnings in which the old story is disintegrating and a new one is being born. Replete with paradox, Dispelling Wetiko inspires us to discover that the medicine that cures our disease, both personally and collectively, is hidden within the illness. We can continue to deny and avoid the shadow, or we can willingly descend into it, as individuals and as a culture, and there, not elsewhere, be transformed. In the alchemical container of ego-immolation and Self-emergence, lies the extraordinary opportunity to become an entirely new species of human and in Levy’s words, “to creatively give (re)birth to the universe as an ongoing work of art.” (251)
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Carolyn Baker, Ph.D. manages her website at www.carolynbaker.net and is the author of Sacred Demise: Walking The Spiritual Path Of Industrial Civilization’s Collapse and Navigating The Coming Chaos: A Handbook For Inner Transition. She lives in Boulder, Colorado where she works with Transition Colorado. A former psychotherapist, she offers life coaching for people who want to live more resiliently in the present as they prepare for the future. Her forthcoming 2013 book is entitled, Collapsing Consciously: Transformative Truths For Turbulent Times. She may be contacted at Carolyn@carolynbaker.net