It has been a radiant spring weekend in Baltimore, and this evening we are basking in the cool rays of the full moon. Relieved that the Freddie Gray investigation has led to criminal charges, people from every part of the city have been holding peaceful rallies and street demonstrations, continuing to press for justice in this case and for far-reaching reforms of our political and economic system. Free concerts and street performances continue. The 10 p.m. curfew has been lifted and the National Guard troops are pulling out. Following the rallies on television and in print media and chatting with people around the neighborhood, I detect a new confidence and determination in my fellow citizens. There is both a deep seriousness and a joy moving among us. While meetings are being held to organize for change, there are also simple, playful actions like making brilliantly colored chalk drawings on the sidewalks to express love for our city and hopes for peace.
The Baltimore Sun newspaper (which has done a great job of keeping people informed) ran an article today about places to go and refresh your spirit in this time of crisis. One was our own neighborhood park, Sherwood Gardens, which is locally famous for its tulip beds and blooming trees at this time of year. The scene in the Gardens has been especially intense this year; since we had a long, cold winter and then a long, cold spring, everything finally bloomed at once. The forsythia and daffodils had hardly come out when the cherry trees exploded and the tulips popped, and now, as the cherries cling to their last blossoms and the tulips have just passed their peak, we have lilac bushes and crabapple and dogwood trees in bloom, grape hyacinths, crocuses and narcissus, the red maple trees are leafing out, and the azaleas are opening. The people in bloom in the park today were equally varied: Japanese and Africans, Indians and Pakistanis, Orthodox Jews and Amish, and many more.
As I watched them all playing with their babies, sharing food, or strolling with their sweethearts among the blossoms, I kept on thinking about the themes we have been pursuing and also about another conversation that led up to the opening of the seminar.
Let me first take note of the two posts by Mats (April 24 and 28) in which he deploys the thesis advanced in Rajiv Malhotra’s book “Being Different: An Indian Challenge to Western Universalism.” I won’t try to address the specific challenges Mats poses to Peter’s thesis, but instead consider the relevance of Malhotra’s views to our seminar theme as a whole, which is the experiment of creating an international internet-based community.
Malhotra points up a weakness in Western thinking, which is the tendency to assume that our way of life is normative, our religion (or our science) is superior to others, and our categories are sufficient for the understanding of all phenomena. Reality is assumed to be the same everywhere. As Mats writes, “the West’s history-centrism drives it into claims of exclusiveness. It results in anxiety over differences which it seeks to resolve through projects of digestion in order to obliterate whatever seems challenging.” . . . “The doctrine of ‘sameness’ surreptitiously privileges Western thought as universal.”
What I value in Malhotra’s perspective is the insistence on difference and otherness as realities to be actively lived with rather than denied, outgrown, overcome through conversion, or just “tolerated”. To speak personally, the question of otherness has been a significant factor in the shaping of my own thought and indeed my life. Having been brought up with thoroughly Western attitudes, at the age of 21 I went to teach and study in India for a year. I came to understand at a deep level that Indian culture and the experience of being Indian would never become fully accessible to me. I could not master or digest or categorize the reality of India. This was a wounding experience, one from which I have (fortunately) never recovered. It meant coming to terms with the fact that there were other realities which also could not be mastered, but only encountered with an open mind and heart. A few years later I married a man from India who himself had lived some of the cultural problems Malhotra writes about, and who still today (after having lived in the U.S. for almost sixty years) retains his Indian citizenship, perhaps as a way of refusing to be dissolved in the American melting pot.
It seems important to me that in our group we continue to cultivate a degree of humility about cultural difference. In the week or two leading up to this seminar this theme had already been sounded. I believe it began with Diego commenting (April 7) about ways in which, for cultural reasons, he believes North Americans and Europeans understand Jung differently. Gustavo responded (April 14), introducing himself and remarking, “I find myself at a loss as where to situate my voice in the discussion” – being Mexican with a rich mixture of European ancestry, and not fitting into the typical Europe-U.S. dichotomy in which discussions are often framed. Noting “the fragility of our categories” [of nationality/culture], he nevertheless felt that we should “hold a serious conversation about the historical, cultural, social, and economic backdrop of what we (Jungians and post-Jungians) are doing.”
Steven H. chimed in (April 14) with enthusiasm, suggesting that there is an American Jung as well as a Swiss Jung – that “Seven trips to America helped make Jung who he is today.” Despite differences, he asked, “Are we not all part of one human family, regardless of our national differences?” – citing Walt Whitman’s poetic vision.
While Diego (April 15) averred that North Americans “bring a shadow of cultural dissociation”, Gustavo (April 18) countered that “each and every one of us, not only Americans, bring shadow into the discussion of Jungian theory and practice”; nor is dissociation purely a (North) American or U.S. phenomenon. What would be interesting, he suggested, would be to study the different “styles of cultural dissociation” in various cultures, and their effects on how we see each other.
Gustavo also noted what a mixed bag any of our ancestries is likely to be, and how much “psychic suffering” those ancestries entail. “Most of our nations and cultures have undergone so many empires, so many wars, and so much destruction, that it is likely that we descend both from those who killed and from those who were killed. This is part of our collective shadow. . . . [which] must be addressed. We must address the psychic suffering and its relationship with socioeconomic factors. And also the psychic factors that generate socioeconomic suffering.” (A timely comment in relation to my own city at this moment!)
What I want to underline is that as we cross boundaries we encounter genuine differences, and taking those seriously is vital to academic research, to psychotherapy, and to peacemaking and community-building. As Malhotra emphasizes, “tolerance” is not enough; there must be genuine respect and a meeting of the other person as an equal, the other culture as valid in its own right. There must be a willingness to risk one’s own analytical “grid” when assessing ideas or phenomena of another culture. One built-in difficulty in IAJS is that English is our mode of communication, and like any language it has its limitations. Those for whom this is not a first language are always at some degree of disadvantage. Yet we persist, as at least it provides a way for us to connect.
The other side of the story is, indeed, connection. Steven (to continue the quotation above regarding Jung) wrote: “I do not believe it was the soil influences only that shaped him, as he himself attests, in his 1927 essay ‘Mind and Earth,’ but the different atmosphere that is here in America and shapes its national poetry.” And Steven goes on to quote Whitman at length – Whitman who had Jupiter in Aquarius in the eleventh house and could thus connect via the Air element with the whole of humanity. (The poets have always had their own internet.) So while the lack of “place,” cultural sameness, and physical grounding for IAJS may seem daunting, we may find strength via other elements, especially Air (breath, atmosphere, language, spirit).
The variegated human visitors to my neighborhood park this weekend seemed to find plenty of “common ground” in beauty. Music, too, mysteriously dissolves boundaries. Friday evening (early, to avoid the curfew) we attended the annual spring concert of the Peabody Renaissance Ensemble, in which exquisite performances of 12th through 16th century European music were produced by singers and instrumentalists from several parts of Asia as well as North America. I have the impression that that amazing Korean countertenor is getting deeply inside this music which is so remote from the culture of his childhood.
Also, I am still married.
Eros is possible only where there is difference.
Evangeline and Peter, I look forward to responding to you both – hopefully tomorrow.
Warm greetings to all,