The Shadow Knows 

How the dark side overtakes Republicans

Recently, I heard a hilarious spoof on Air America Radio that advertised a 25-volume encyclopedia of sex crimes and scandals involving Republican politicians and activists. In real life, the most recent sleaziness involves Brian J. Doyle, the deputy press secretary for the Department of Homeland Security. He was arrested last week for allegedly trying to seduce a 14-year-old girl on the Internet. She turned out to be an undercover cop.

I won't inventory the shockingly long list of pervy Republicans. You can find one such list here: Reading over its disproportionately large number of references to crimes involving children, you'll feel flabbergasted this is the same party that impeached Bill Clinton for denying he received a blowjob in the White House from an intern.

Or you'll simply be mystified that a party whose base advocates religious fundamentalism and conservative family values is also home to so many sexual nutcases. The Catholic priesthood seems wholesome compared to many of the leaders of God's Own Party.

Of course, this inconsistency of language and behavior is entirely consistent with so much else about the nation's Republican leadership. Washington is in the grip of a huge ethics scandal that forced Tom DeLay to give up his seat in the House last week. Most Americans now believe President Bush routinely lies, especially about Iraq.

The same people who claim to support smaller government and conservative spending have bloated the federal bureaucracy and created a monumentally huge deficit. After decades of claiming to support individual freedom, they have -- by way of the PATRIOT Act -- become the biggest threat to privacy and personal freedom in generations. Hell, they even restarted random IRS audits, suspended during the Clinton years.

How is it that so many of these self-proclaimed champions of family values and less invasive government have become exactly the opposite? How do administration officials claim torture is anti-American even though it's widely documented that our government is torturing enemies in foreign facilities?

The shadow knows.

The shadow is the term used in Jungian psychology to describe the disowned, principally negative parts of the human psyche that we repress in our day-to-day lives. According to Carl Jung -- and many philosophical and religious thinkers before him -- our dominant conscious style is always balanced by an opposite, usually unconscious style.

Everyone has a shadow. Civilization depends on it. Our murderous and thieving impulses, though intrinsic to human nature, are repressed as part of the shadow, for example.

The problem is that if we become too one-sided in the conscious style, or refuse to acknowledge the shadow's contents, it can overwhelm us. The classic example from recent years is televangelist Jimmy Swaggart, who made a career of preaching about the evils of sex. His extreme, judgmental style -- his refusal to see his own capacity for sin -- caused his shadow to go out of control and he became a client of whores.

Unfortunately, there is little support in our society for people to be forthright about their shadows. Remember when President Jimmy Carter admitted to having sinned in his heart? His admission outraged holier-than-thou Americans, but it was a perfect lesson in how acknowledging our shadow keeps it from controlling our actual behavior.

The nation's political life is now in the grip of its own shadow in the guise of the Bush administration. Controlled by the religious right, with its extreme agendas, it's no wonder that the Bush administration is producing an astounding number of ethical and moral scandals. Just the opposite of Carter, when Bush was asked during a press conference to name a few mistakes he'd made, he couldn't think of any. Completely out of touch with his shadow, it takes control of his governance, so that deception and cruelty hide behind his good-ol'-boy exterior, as it does with most in his administration.

The shadow's power at the political level points to its gains throughout American society. The decline of altruism and the triumph of consumerism have left many Americans feeling like strangers to themselves. We've lost the historic means of coming to know our shadows and avoid fanaticism. Indeed, we've lost a sense of power in our lives, because, by an interesting paradox, knowing the shadow also enhances our sense of personal agency.

One of the ways other cultures deal with their shadow is through art. Indeed, George Bernard Shaw once wrote that the only alternative to torture is art, an appreciation of the beautiful in life. In the horrific scenes of Abu Ghraib and the descriptions of torture occurring in secret CIA-operated prisons around the world, we see what happens when a nation loses its soul's sense of beauty. The shadow erupts in its ugliest way.

I've been thinking a lot about the shadow because I'm planning a workshop on the subject. In coming weeks, I will from time to time be writing about this subject in more personal terms, suggesting how we, as citizens and love-starved human beings, can reclaim power and happiness in our lives through the encounter with that part of ourselves we most fear.

Cliff Bostock holds a Ph.D. in depth psychology.

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