In my role as Director of the Meridian Programme
(formerly the "Manhattan Project of the Behavioural Sciences") I have
recently been involved in a series of international conferences in France,
Hungary, UK and the USA which have brought together some of the world's
leading psycho-social analysts. There
is a sufficient convergence of understanding of the dynamics of the current
international situation to warrant bringing the following points to your
attention as a matter of some urgency:
- That factors which are non-rational and largely
unconscious play a major part in the dynamics of international relationships
and decision-making. It is
critical that this level of understanding of systems behaviour is taken into
consideration by all concerned irrespective of their political, religious,
national or ethnic affiliation.
- That in the post September 11 context, large
sectors of the international community are acting out classical symptoms of
post-traumatic shock syndrome. The
intensity of emotion involved reinforces fixation in the moment of shock and
the tendency to re-stage the event in repeated cycles of displacement.
- That the intensity of personal and collective
grief occasioned by that event has been profoundly underestimated. Unresolved mourning is commonly transmuted into inappropriate
aggressive behaviour, particularly in cultures that have difficulty in
dealing with issues of mortality and death.
- That primitive and simplistic dynamics of
splitting are dominant. Sectors
of the world community are seen either as good or as evil. Negative elements of the "good" sectors are suppressed
and denied, positive elements of the "evil" sectors are also suppressed
sector leaders involved in the resultant polarities take up mirror positions
to each other. The "home"
sector is seen as good, in the right, offended against, holding the moral
high ground, an innocent victim, totally justified in defending itself or
escalating the conflict in a mode of righteous retaliation. The position is identical whichever side of the polarity is
de-humanisation of the "enemy" results in massive imbalance in the value
afforded to human life between the in-group and the out-group. This supports acts of aggression that over-emphasise casualties to
the in-group while discounting casualties suffered by the out-group.
- That empathic cultural
awareness is severely diminished, rendering it extremely difficult to
appreciate how a situation is perceived from another point of view. For example, in the search for some reason behind the "acts of
terrorism", many Americans find it impossible to comprehend the enormity
of the sense of desecration and violation of the sacred space of the Holy
Land of Islam which took place inadvertently during the Gulf War.
- That actions and interventions transfer the emotional and unconscious
state of the actor into the emotional and unconscious life of the receptor. Terror, distress and outrage may lead to an act of aggression which
leaves the victim in a state of even greater terror, distress and outrage. Reaction in kind sets up an escalating cycle of destruction,
reinforcing the underlying dynamics and obliterating any possibility of
understanding and resolution.
- That social trauma
generates behaviour in the victim which reflects and matches the culture of
the aggressor. This
internalisation of dysfunctional dynamics underlies recent shifts in
American life towards conformity with the culture of fundamentalism, social
oppression and the suppression of difference and dissent.
- That current events
trigger the release of emotional response associated with past experience
whether individual or collective. The
re-stimulated unconscious anxiety (which may be from a failed abortion
attempt, early loss of twin or other close family member, birth trauma,
circumcision, stressful separation, child abuse, etc.) then distorts present
social attitudes and political decision-making.
- That leadership
emerges in large groups and social systems when there is a match between the
unconscious dynamics and defences of the leader and the unconscious needs
and wishes of the led. This
relationship between pathology and politics exposes the system to
significant risk in times of transition or crisis. Thus over-identification with the bereaved after 9.11 stemming from
intense family bereavement trauma illuminates the intensity of the bond
between President Bush and Prime Minister Blair and the collusional
congruence of their political response.
- That the identification or provocation of an
external enemy unifies the internal dynamics of any group, nation or state. Internal differences, ambivalence and negativities are obliterated
and projected outwards onto the enemy-as-scapegoat. The process may strongly reinforce the power and popularity of
religious or political leadership, but it undermines the capacity for
rational and reality-based decision-making.
- That the global context of the human species
within its holding environment is raising increasing social anxiety about
future viability. The result is
an increasing state of collective paranoia coupled with despair and
impotence in the face of the enormity of scale and difficulties encountered
in mobilising effective international action. The heightened sense of threat seduces and deflects
energy into internecine conflict, diverting attention from long-term
problem-solving, diminishing the capacity for global collaboration and
severely enhancing the environmental degrade and resource attenuation which
underlie the presenting symptoms.
- That another response to the global situation is the social retreat
into passivity, dissociation, collective trance and anxiolytic behaviour. Energy is invested in attempts to sedate the presenting symptoms of
anxiety rather than focussed on the underlying problems which are causing
- That heightened
social anxiety leads to the reinforcement of fundamentalist ideologies,
whether philosophical, political, economic or religious. These constructs defend individuals and systems from anxiety while
detaching them from reality. Extreme
pressure for conformity and collusion are experienced within the groups
concerned, while intense conflict is engendered at their boundaries.
- That the degree and intensity of dynamic disturbance in the world
system reflect the severity of the emergent anxiety in the system as a
whole. (See appended "Core
Analysis of Global Dynamics".) Responses
and interventions that serve to reinforce the long-term causes of the
anxiety are dysfunctional in the extreme, however appropriate they may seem
from a short-term and limited perspective.
- That in a world
that is interrelated in real time by the communication media, reinforcing
feed-back loops can severely accelerate and enhance the dysfunctional system
dynamics. It is vital that all
involved in the media should become increasingly aware of the unconscious
factors at work and of their own role and responsibility within that
- That the current global context requires the ability to see the world
system as a whole and to operate with the viewpoint of an extended time
span. Even though individual
business or political leaders may have risen to power at the head of
distinct sub-systems, they share a collective responsibility to optimise the
long-term viability of the world community as a whole. Maximisation of sub-system goals at the expense of the whole or the
achievement of short term gain at the expense of long-term degrade are no
longer sustainable strategies.
- That it is now
imperative to develop effective means by which all concerned with leadership
of our world community can be enabled to take cognisance of the powerful
non-rational and unconscious dynamics which operate in social systems.
While this document
draws together insights from many sources reflecting the convergence of analysis
within the professional community, I myself carry full responsibility for the
form and content of the initiative.
Analysis of Global Dynamics
Over the many millennia of
recent evolution, increasing and universal traumatisation in the process of
birth has led to repressed physical and psychological pain and its associated
defences. This profound and shared
state of normal pathology forms the ground of our common or collective
Normal fixation at the onset of perinatal trauma, together with consequent
regression to an idealised pre-natal environment, drive a socially resonant
dynamic syndrome. It is
characterised by an unconscious identification with the foetal state, seeking to
reconstitute an idealised foetal context, albeit fraught with anticipatory
terror of the imminent onset of the trauma of birth.
The collective acting-out of the material in repetitious social psychodrama
forms the basis of every level of our civilisation. It presents in the dynamics of war and religion, of politics, economics
and environmental relations. It is
constructed and reified in art and architecture, philosophy and ideology.
Under certain conditions normal defences used to
contain the experience in unconscious repression are weakened, precipitating an
acting-out of birth trauma in collective behaviour. Current global conditions constitute precisely such a context
on a massive scale. Living space is
constricted, resources are seen as inadequate to sustain current or future
patterns of growth, the pace of change is accelerating, increased pressure is
universally experienced and issues of environmental pollution are significant. Collective identification of the species as mega-humanoid foetus within
its global uterine space, leads to the perception of reaching critical mass
within its holding environment. Under
these conditions the collective foetal assumption is that the titanic struggle
of birth is imminent. Realistic
anxiety about the actual condition of the species is massively inflated by
re-stimulated anxiety released from the collective unconscious, the threatened
acting-out of which on a global scale probably constitutes the most severe
crisis ever encountered by our human species.