There is always some anxiety in a time of waiting, and there is often anxiety in the dark when we can’t see what is going on. This Advent there is the added weight of different apocalyptic images of universal destruction.
One is the feeling that the climate is out of control – the weather is not quite right: too mild, too wet, too windy and above all too unpredictable. The seasons used to have a sense of delineation, in other words you knew where you were, now that has gone, and there is great unpredictability about what might be on offer. The second is the feeling of uncertainty around random acts of violence and terrorism. Carl Jung writing in the late 1950s (and it seems highly relevant now) spoke about the readiness of people with what he called ‘incendiary torches’ where flames might be fanned and new acts of subversion and violence possible. For some people contribute a peculiar dangerousness because their mental state is that of a collectively excited group ruled by affective judgements and wish fantasies.
In thinking about what might be going on he also noted how the gift of reason and critical reflection have not been proved in the end to be one of humanity’s outstanding achievements and even where it exists it proves to be wavering and inconstant. In other words we cannot really rely on thoughtful processes either to minimise the uncertainty we feel or to run society because collective irrationality can take place in all sorts of different groups amongst different peoples – in other words in everyone.
Sometimes for those of us not involved in political decision-making it seems that our leaders are always taking the wrong path, a clear sign of collective irrationality. In the UK why remove subsidies for solar and wind power to promote fracking and so on. Why join in a general busyness to bomb a country absolutely ravaged by warfare – why not put the similar amounts of money into humanitarian aid?
But we know from our individual psyches, and it is even more powerful in groups, that rational argument and sensible solutions can only be carried out with some degree of success if the emotional aspects are understood and fully integrated. The inhumanity that is present in everyone has to be owned before we can become humane. There needs to be some degree of self-knowledge so that some clear light can be shone into the darkness while we wait.