The “Other” Globalization and Fear of the Feminine: a Mythological View
The advent of the Internet for the average citizen in the 1990s has proven both a blessing and a curse. One of its positive attributes is the way in which it introduced the world to itself. For the United States in particular it meant finally having a reliable and accessible channel to the rest of the world, allowing a glimpse of what was beyond our isolated position in the Atlantic. Communication across the globe has become cheap and easy, and allows us to expand our knowledge of other people and cultures. This leads to two possible outcomes: one possibility is that this will break down barriers of prejudice and nationalism. The other possibility is that it will reinforce these barriers. What we now see going on in the world is evidence of the latter.
“Globalization” is a dirty word to many people, but what does it mean? Jonathan Cobb provides an excellent summary of the economic definition of the term in his recent Metapsychosis article, “The Global Abyss.” When we hear about “globalization” in the capitalistic sense, it deals with colonialism and exploitation, and therefore it is rightly a “dirty word.” The terms of IMF loans required that they be spent developing businesses and trade. They were not to be used for public welfare of any kind. As incentives were offered to companies who opened up shop, labor was often exploited. This led to populations staying poor and international businesses getting rich. If there is one thing that the political left and right tend to agree on it’s that big business is exploitative. Here in the United States, prior to the rise of the Internet, we may not have noticed the exploitative nature of our home-grown companies before, but now it is happening to us. Legal decisions like Citizens United provide corporations with influence and rights that are harmful to the average working citizen. Jobs are being outsourced to places where unions don’t exist, and labor is so cheap it almost qualifies as slave labor. Technological advances and increased automation will require new thinking about the “work” economy, but in the meantime we are left with a workforce dependent on both manufacturing and service jobs.
But “globalization” can also mean something like the opposite of “nationalism.” Nationalism is often experienced as separate nations making war over resources and promoting false ideas of racial or ethnic superiority. Psychoanalyst Erik Erikson referred to these latter ideas as “pseudospeciation”: the idea that one group of humans is superior to another on some kind of economic, cultural, or moral grounds.1Erikson, Erik H. Childhood and Society. W.W. Norton, 1993, p. 10. In contrast, globalization is a perception of the world as one “country.” On a broader scale, this is embracing the collective human race over individual ethnic and political groups.
My own research in myth and psychology suggests that the underlying principle of this “collective” ideal is “feminine” in nature. In Carol Gilligan’s work entitled A Different Voice she speaks to the differences in the way boys and girls think. Gilligan illustrates this by presenting the “Heinz’s Dilemma,” which is a psychological problem constructed to test the moral and emotional maturity of children. The dilemma runs thus: Heinz’s wife has cancer. Heinz can’t afford the medicine his wife needs to get better. Should Heinz steal the drug or let his wife die? When an 11-year-old boy and girl from roughly the same background and education were asked to provide a response to “Heinz’s Dilemma,” they both thought of the problem in very different ways. The boy who answered this question gave a very rational, legalistic response to the problem. The girl offered a more ambiguous response, feeling that neither solution was adequate. She asked, ‘Couldn’t people raise money to help Heinz buy the drug? Wasn’t there another way?'2Gilligan, Carol. In a Different Voice: Women’s Conception of the Self and of Morality. Harvard University Press, 1977, p. 30. The girl’s way of thinking was frustrating to the researchers who rated her as lower in maturity than the boy. Gilligan points out that she is not immature; rather, she is thinking about the broader community rather than just the individual or the details of law. This mode of thought might be called a “feminine” way.
This distinction, between an individual/masculine perspective and a collective/female perspective has been made by several psychoanalysts over the years. Jung used the term logos to refer to the psychological “masculine” while the “feminine” is akin to eros. “Masculine” is related to the hero’s journey, the warrior moving away from the safety of home to make his way in the world, to later bring back his “boon” and provide a benefit to the community. The last part of the journey is seen by Jung as a reunion of “masculine” and “feminine,” which is about integrating once again with the collective—love, family, sharing, and community. Others, like Erich Neumann, likened the rational, conscious mind to a masculine Heaven and the collective powers “that threaten to devour” to the feminine Earth.3Neumann, Erich. The Fear of the Feminine and Other Essays on Feminine Psychology. Princeton University Press, 1994, p. 172. When feminine energy is described in this manner, as something which erases individuality and devours identity, it’s not surprising when it becomes something to be feared.
If we apply these concepts to our “globalized” world, with every person belonging to a network connected by technology, where social groups and shared experiences dominate our reality, we begin to see the problem. What happens when these two groups bump up against each other? If one group values independence and the other values inclusion, do they see one another as a threat? In Western culture, “feminine” or “collective” thinking has become associated with what is evil or weak. This frightening view of the collective, akin to the archetype of the Terrible Mother, is what drives a lot of the current global political and social narrative. It represents a fear of change, and on a broader level, of death. We don’t want to embrace the Other, or lose ourselves in the collective. Recognizing what we have in common might threaten what makes us special.
This view does not necessarily have to do with individual women per se, nor does it apply only to females. The terms “masculine” and “feminine” can apply to men or women, and all men and women have both masculine and feminine attributes.
This broader psychological view is important when we consider the role of narrative in our culture. Narratives which are accepted as truth often become the foundation of future behavior. The general assumption is that truth is supported by authoritative evidence. Library science has many theoretical and philosophical writings on the notion of the “authoritative.” It is assumed to be knowledge conveyed by an expert, and reviewed by that expert’s peers. The “expert” has spent time studying the question, problem, or topic in depth. For this reason, secular society prefers science over religion as a basis for its laws and decision-making, as noted by Alan Watts.4Watts, Alan. “The Ceramic and the Fully Automatic Model.” YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pfNbmwiTIlE
While this is a very sensible approach to information about the world, nature, and the universe, it tends to fall too much on the side of logos. The “irrational” side of consciousness—intuition, emotion, perception—is viewed as unreliable and therefore false. The entire category of religion is labeled as such by some materialists and atheists, because belief in a god requires “faith” in unseen forces. Along with religion goes personal experience. Since an individual’s experience is easily influenced by emotions, the assessment of that experience is judged as not being objective. What is “felt” is dismissed in favor of what is “logical”; the “feminine” aspect of our consciousness is discredited and the “masculine” aspect is seen as the only credible one.
This is the root of the narrative problem. When society’s narrative is overly rationalistic and “masculine,” there’s no room for the “felt” truth of the individual. Likewise, when a “feminine” narrative arises out a common experience and a shared feeling, there can be a resistance to hearing any rationale behind what happened. A fundamental human desire is to feel validated. When our experiences are dismissed and our viewpoints ridiculed or ignored, we respond negatively to the sense of rejection. It doesn’t matter if we are actually right or wrong in a factual sense; not being listened to or believed is still alienating.
Fear of the unknown is also part of the equation. When confronted with new viewpoints or when forced to accept changes brought about by crisis, personal insecurity can bring about defensive behavior. Our belief in the principle of cause and effect makes us look for an “answer” to problems that are not easily articulated or defined. When we can’t seem to make sense of what’s happening, we look for a quick fix. One way is to demonize the supposed “cause” of the problem, thereby creating a scapegoat. Another way is to cling to belief systems that spell out every detail of behavior and promise to speak with the authority of the “ultimate” (i.e. God).
If we put all of this together into a society that pits reasoned, scientific observation against what is felt and shared, you end up with a backlash against both. This is why we are now left in a world that is increasingly fascist and nationalistic, with each side believing they are the superior group of humans based “on some kind of economic, cultural, or moral grounds.”
It also puts us into an information environment being described as “post-factual.” Facts no longer matter; an individual’s preferred narrative is all that matters. This may appear to be an appeal to the “feminine,” where large groups of people all buy into the same story, but it actually demonstrates an absence of the feminine: there is a war of worldviews, and accepting another’s worldview is viewed as weakness.
The choosing of a bullying, xenophobic white man for President of the United States reflects the narrative of a frightened America now on the defensive. He has identified and named our scapegoats and now we are going after them. It’s an action movie where the vigilante guy who doesn’t play by the rules destroys the evil villains. But where is the re-integration? In this version, Odysseus never comes home and “plants his oar”—he perpetually goes on plundering and making war. It is a hero narrative that has all the battle scenes and none of the re-integration or offering of boons to society. Carl Jung warned about repressing all of our natural archetypal instincts during the tumultuous events of his time.5Jung, C.G. “Epilogue to ‘Essays on Contemporary Events.’” Civilization in Transition. (Collected Works, v. 10), Pantheon Books 1964, pp. 235-236. The problem may be even worse today. The repression and neglect of the collective has led to something like a mass psychosis, with each side being driven mad by the Other.
The reader might object that much of this is rather abstract and somewhat general. But it is important to look at the drives, fears, and a priori assumptions that drive human behavior. It is no longer sufficient to simply dismiss certain narratives as “irrational” or “delusional” because they appear to originate outside our group. “Feminine” and “Masculine” thinking lies within us all. We must look deeper into the views we don’t understand to unearth the threads that tie us all together. We live in a world that is post-mythical. There is no longer a single convincing narrative that unites everyone. Joseph Campbell told Bill Moyers during their Power of Myth conversations that any future myth has to be a global one.6Joseph Campbell the Power of Myth with Bill Moyers. Edited by Betty Sue Flowers, Doubleday, 1988, p. 32. The time has come to write our new myth story; one which embraces the truth about who we are as people, the power of connectedness, and the real threats to our humanity.
The Internet has been a terrifying force for spreading harmful falsehoods that affect entire nations and the entire world. But the Internet is not “evil.” It has the potential to unite as well as divide. The question becomes: how does the individual find their way past collective fears and scapegoating without fear of losing themselves or their values? Even if we feel safe in our own familiar spaces, isolation and alienation will not lead to happiness.
We need to look at the positive aspects of the collective without fearing for our identities. Much like the Hindu concept of the divine, we are One with many facets like a diamond. We are not separate from each other—our shared experience of life happens in relationship to what is around ALL of us.
Notes [ + ]
|1.||↑||Erikson, Erik H. Childhood and Society. W.W. Norton, 1993, p. 10.|
|2.||↑||Gilligan, Carol. In a Different Voice: Women’s Conception of the Self and of Morality. Harvard University Press, 1977, p. 30.|
|3.||↑||Neumann, Erich. The Fear of the Feminine and Other Essays on Feminine Psychology. Princeton University Press, 1994, p. 172.|
|4.||↑||Watts, Alan. “The Ceramic and the Fully Automatic Model.” YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pfNbmwiTIlE|
|5.||↑||Jung, C.G. “Epilogue to ‘Essays on Contemporary Events.’” Civilization in Transition. (Collected Works, v. 10), Pantheon Books 1964, pp. 235-236.|
|6.||↑||Joseph Campbell the Power of Myth with Bill Moyers. Edited by Betty Sue Flowers, Doubleday, 1988, p. 32.|