The Archetypal Roots Of War

Understanding the patterns in our minds
may lead to an end to war

One of the articles in The Foundations Of Peace (IC#4)
Originally published in Autumn 1983 on page 4
Copyright (c)1983, 1997 by Context Institute

TO STOP WAR, we must find its root causes. If "Wars are first made in the minds of men," as the UNESCO Charter asserts, then we must look in the psyches of humankind for ways to eradicate warfare. The need to eradicate warfare at this time in history is all too obvious. Even so, the chances of eliminating violence between nations may not seem very great. (The last few years have seen a recession-plagued, needy world spending upwards of $600 billion every 12 months on armaments!) Yet the unthinkable horror of the alternative, nuclear holocaust, compels us to go for the long shot. We must find other ways of solving human differences and animosities short of war.

I believe that beating the odds will include one essential condition: A significant number of human beings need to understand the patterning of their own minds that throughout history has led them to war. Such patterns are slowly being comprehended and acknowledged. Only when this awareness spreads, and there begin to be changes in the way groups see and treat outsiders, can we truly hope and plan for the miracle of miracles: an end to war.

Genetic coding in the DNA of the human species makes certain instincts and patterns of thinking universal. Evidence from the newer fields of ethology and sociobiology, examining as they do patterns of behavior in different species of animal and diverse human societies, corroborates this idea, as do the abundant data already on hand from mythology and psychiatry. C.G. Jung’s theory of the Archetypes parallels and confirms the newer discoveries in these other sciences, and was the seminal basis for much of their comprehensive framework. Archetypes, as Jung defined them, are the phylogenetic blueprint that mediate the common behavioral and thought characteristics of mankind. Years ahead of his time, Jung saw and named the principal "primordial images" which are deeply imprinted into the human psyche, much as a computer is programed. He had the vision to realize that these archetypes are not dependent on culture, race or time, but call forth certain common personal and social behaviors the world over. He also showed that they produce recurring symbols and themes in the dreams, art and religions of men despite vast cultural and time differences. These archetypes carry a numinous, compelling energy that gives them tremendous vitality and the power to draw out response and action from individuals and societies.

Given a growing awareness of the a priori patterns that shape much of mankind’s thoughts and actions, which of these persistently lead to warfare between human groups? What can be done to counteract them or give them other expressions? The most significant of the patterns relating to recurring war as I see them are these archetypes: Amity-Enmity between in and out groups, the Enemy, Aggression, Territorialism, Heirarchism, the Religious Quest for Meaning, the Need for Initiation Rites, and what Jung has called, "The Shadow", and intimately bound up with it, Projection.

Amity-Enmity Programming For obvious survival reasons – until the present threat of nuclear holocaust – the human baby everywhere was/is largely taught to trust its familiar group and to distrust strangers. It seems only natural to help a child feel comfortable with the people and customs he is used to from birth. Similarly, it would be natural to teach him to view with suspicion or animosity those who speak a strange language, wear different clothes, practice a weird religion, eat other foods with other smells, have strange eyes or a different colored skin. Who could know what these outsiders might do, or when they might become dangerous? A paper by R.F. Murphy (1957) on, "Intergroup Hostility and Social Cohesion," describes how the Mundrucus of Brazil traditionally in their language structure, divide humankind into two groups, themselves and the rest of the world. These others they derogatorily describe as "pariwat." Pariwat are considered as subhuman, fair game, and are spoken of in the same manner as animals. Can it be that the Mundrucus only do a little more blatantly what most other social groups actually feel towards most other outside people and tribes? It was Herbert Spence, the 19th-century philosopher, who first pointed out in modern Western thinking the totally opposing codes of ethics which were generally held for insiders and for outsiders throughout the world. Cooperation or amity was the rule for one’s own group, he emphasized, and definite enmity or hostility was reserved for others.

Man is not alone in making clear distinctions between friend and foe. It seems that all social animals show different behaviors towards their familiars and towards strangers of their species. They are prone to treat the latter with deviousness and hostility if they perceive them as potential enemies. Primates in particular seem to carry such an imprint. Baboons, for example, are extremely loyal to the troop into which they were born, but usually are hostile, often viciously so, to baboons from other groups – even when in captivity it is to their seeming advantage to become friendly.

The Enemy Archetype Dr. Anthony Stevens in his excellent book, Archetypes, (1982), to which this article is greatly indebted, points out the survival advantages (until the present era!), of posing enemies:

"The sinister truth is that for communities to thrive, enemies are as necessary as friends. External danger binds the group together, reduces personal animosity, enhances mutual trust, promotes altruism and self sacrifice. A society surrounded by enemies is unified and strong, a society without enemies divided and lax."

Enemies the world over are categorized in the minds and propaganda of their opposition in similar ways. They are stereotyped as being treacherous, cruel, brutal, and frequently subhuman, to name only a few of the vicious qualities generally applied to them. The other side, the good side (our side of course) sees itself as embodying the opposite qualities: justice, compassion, a righteous cause, trustworthiness, being on the side of the Divine, and so on. This dehumanization serves an important function. It enables each group to kill with little if any remorse, and to frequently carry out savageries that would be unimaginable in their own milieu.

It should also be noted with awe and humility that enemies have a propensity to change amazingly frequently. Even in our sophisticated era, the shift from Germans and "Japs" to the Russian Communist bloc as our identified enemy seems to have been accomplished with hardly a protest or cry of awareness.

The Natural Aggressions That aggression needs to be considered innate does not bode well for fast solutions to the perennial warfare problem. Yet the denial of what all major schools of depth psychology and the findings of animal behaviorists abundantly document could lead us into stop-gap superficial attempts at curbing war that would be bound to fail in the long run. We must face the nature of humankind realistically and accept that aggression is as innate an instinct as hunger or sex.

Ethology, as Dr. Stevens points out, claims that aggression no less than sexuality serves the survival of the species. The arguments he summarizes are these:

  • It promotes defense.
  • It permits access to valued resources, (e.g. territory, food, water and females).
  • It ensures good use of the available habitat by spreading the population out as widely as possible.
  • It affords an effective means of settling disputes within groups.
  • It provides leadership – a factor that can prove critical for survival in times of danger.
  • It promotes differential reproduction – i.e. the more aggressive and dominant males are more likely to sire the next generation.

As with animals, could not many of the same arguments be applied to mankind, and to the reasons why the Great Programmer saw fit to encode aggression as a tool for a form of betterment for the human species? At any rate, the near-universality of aggression (if not in the conscious, then in the unconscious, or the "Shadow," that will be discussed shortly) is an unquestionable factor to be considered in a serious attempt to eradicate war. Where can these impulses have legitimate vent?

Animal groups and human societies alike acknowledge that aggression is a part of the make-up of their members, and they have evolved a wide and diverse variety of rules and regulations for its sanctioned use. Now with the advent of the nuclear era, we need a new set of rules. These powerful energies, potentially destructive, but not necessarily so, need to find positive channels. Primitive peoples seemed to have sensed this much better than we civilized ones. Dance, music and ritual have traditionally vented much of the feelings and frustrations of those fortunate enough to partake. (When was the last time you danced your feelings to help along the peace movement? Try it!) Young males after puberty are given large doses of extra energy with their male hormones that need outlets and containments that can help them move on to the next stage of their life cycles.

The Territorial Prerogative I have only to watch our dog bark ferociously at any stranger who approaches our yard, despite our disapproval of such unfriendly behavior, and to be amazed at how she ignores anyone coming to the neighbor’s front door, for me to be convinced that defending territory is pretty important to dogs. This also appears to be true for the majority of mammalian societies, many of whom will defend their particular pieces of real estate to the death. There is also much evidence that man has many of the same instinctual needs to keep outsiders off his territory, and to scrupulously maintain individual distance, especially from strangers, that animals do. Whether he can be considered primarily a territorial species is still hotly debated, however. Certainly by far the greatest number of his wars have been fought over: territory, resources, succession or ideologies, and sometimes for a blend of three or four. Further, ideological wars, it’s been argued, may be seen as another form of territorial struggle. In a sense they seek ownership of the minds of the populace. The existence of territorially linked social groups at any rate is obviously an essential condition for warfare, even though not always its cause. Any schemes for eliminating wars must take great consideration of man’s deep territorial and spatial needs.

The Hierarchical Instinct Man, like the majority of mammalian societies, tends to organize his groups hierarchically. Most commonly with animals, a number of dominant aggressive males take charge, assuming responsibility for the whole, protecting the vulnerable members, defending the territory, and keeping the more rebellious, recalcitrant individuals in order. As their reward, the leaders enjoy the privileges of rank and power, the pick of the sexually available females, more attention, food and respect. Defending this "pecking order" seems to be a need of the first importance. Experiments with cooling the waters in hierarchically organized fish tanks showed that the desire to mate disappeared considerably ahead of the propensity to fight challengers to the established ranking system! Perhaps the growing documentation of animal practices relating to privilege and hierarchies can help man to acknowledge the biological and innate psychological bases for his own desires for wealth, power and position. He has only to look around and observe that they are in evidence everywhere that humans have gone on earth. Plans that seek ways to eliminate war between groups must fully allow for the internal and external struggles around power and rank issues that seem to be encoded in the human psyche. They must not naively imagine that a new millennium of highly conscious and therefore no longer power-hungry individuals will have sprung full grown from the yearning to stop nuclear war. As with the birth of the United States from the 13 original colonies on the Eastern seaboard of North America, the political and peace-keeping system must be flexible enough to handle disputes and provide alternatives to fighting wars.

The Hunger for Initiation Rituals Human societies everywhere throughout their long histories have invented ceremonies to mark the passage from one stage of life to another. With intuitive wisdom they have sensed the need for group-sanctioned rituals that could help the individual overcome his/her inertia and reluctance to move on. Particularly important for large numbers of cultures were the initiation tests and rites that boys at puberty went through to prove their abilities as adult men of the group. These were meant to ready the young men to shoulder their load as fathers, providers and defenders of the tribe or country. These tests were frequently hard, dangerous and frightening, but their wisdom proved effective, for the boys who passed generally seemed able to own a pride in their manliness, a sense of achievement for having overcome fear and the old childish ways. Western cultures have allowed their rites of initiation to decline, and there are many who insist that the ills of our so called "advanced" societies are due in part to their absence. Psychologically, young men need to mark the break with their ties to mother, unlike young women, and identify with the leading males of their community. The widespread forms of weakness apparent everywhere in the first and even third world countries, much of the incidence of juvenile delinquency, disillusionment and loss of meaning among the young, could be prevented if sufficient rites and trials of passage at puberty were reinitiated. War and military training seem to be the primary expression left in Western culture of these rites. The valid hunger and need for such puberty rituals to move young males out of the world of mother and the familiar and help them take on a new identity may well explain a good part of the persistence, strength and glory of the military ideals that are still so pervasive in most of the nations of the Western world. Vital ways to satisfy the need for initiation rituals other than through military training should be part of any scheme to ban warfare throughout the planet.

The Quest for Meaning Ironic as it may seem, the strongest inner force that drives men to war may yet prove to be a hunger for meaning! Human beings yearn that their lives may have purpose, yet all too often in Western industrialized societies, they do not. Jung has shown that within each individual, however distorted by outer circumstances, there is an energy that seeks his wholeness and seeks to connect him with that which is greater than his small ego self. Participating in war has enabled the great mass of the population generally to believe that they are contributing to a deeply worthy cause. Their lives are ennobled, and the highest that is in them, their utmost strength, courage and self-sacrifice is called forth. Inevitably when their society, which is inherently regarded as good, true, compassionate, brave, etc., is threatened (as it almost invariably is rationalized to appear to be), their enemies then become the embodiment of evil. Their war becomes a holy war and by fighting it or helping it they are participating with the Divine in ridding the world of darkness. We must never underestimate the yearning within every individual to further the cause of justice and righteousness and to aid the heroic task of eliminating evil. Practically every society of the planet, large or small, makes its warriors heroes and teaches its children the glories of bravely defeating "enemies." If nuclear holocaust is to be permanently avoided, war must be demythified and a new vision must inspire the highest Self within each person. Perhaps it will be possible to take the best of the warrior/monk ideal and inspire the populace to call forth their greatest qualities by "attacking" the evils of pollution, poverty, disease and mental stagnation, to name a few. Without a replacement for the sense of Divine purpose that the just war brings (and research shows that almost every war is considered just by each side who fights it!), there is not a great deal of hope that wars can be stopped. The hunger for meaning is too great.

The Shadow: This Thing of Darkness I Do Not Acknowledge As Mine Jung called "The Shadow" the unconscious qualities which belong to a person but are the opposite of what the ego personality expresses. The same definition applies to a group shadow. Thus a generally warm and outgoing person might have a part that tended to be very critical at certain times. Since she liked to think of herself as caring and accepting, however, she simply would fail to register the instances when she was being extremely judgmental. Nor would she recognize the incongruity, though any friend would probably be able to point it out. The shadow contains the traits which are usually unknown to the person or group who sometimes shows them, and which tend to be condemned in his/her culture. These characteristics were unacceptable to parents, peers, or teachers and therefore needed to be repressed into the unconscious. They are qualities which are regarded by the group as negative. In Western countries today some of these might be: laziness, slyness, greed, jealousy, thirst for power or control, ruthlessness, lack of love. In other circumstances or societies a number of these same traits might well have their positive expressions. For example, the more easygoing life-styles of certain native peoples may not be laziness in one sense at all, but an awareness of the value in going more slowly and enjoying more – a casual sensuousness perhaps that our high pressured society desperately needs.

People and nations need to learn that they can, and most frequently do, have both positive and negative traits. No human or country is all good or all bad. Herein lies the basic oversimplification, directly related to repression of the shadow which results in hostility and frequently, war. Those who begin a journey to consciously find out who they really are invariably discover a host of diverse "sub-personalities" within – often in conflict with each other. They find out that we humans, and consequently the societies we form, all carry many opposites within. As Anthony Storr says in his book on Human Aggression:

"Although we may recoil in horror when we read in newspaper or history book of the atrocities committed by man upon man, we know in our hearts that each one of us harbors within himself those same savage impulses which lead to murder, to torture and to war."

This phenomenon would account for the fascination that many have for works of literature which openly deal with the shadow split and its pull. A few of those that come to mind are the tales of Faust and the Devil, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, and more recently in another genre, Ursula le Guin’s, The Wizard of Earthsea.

Invariably the Shadow contains qualities that the conscious personality or group needs in order to help them become more whole. Shadow characteristics become odious precisely because they are repressed. The rule is that, once a quality is pushed into the unconscious, it becomes hostile and regresses. When it can be recognized and owned, solutions for how to channel its energies differently can be directly sought, and often found. If the trait can be brought to the light of awareness it can even befriend us, and teach us humility and wisdom. "Yes, at times I am bitchy and controlling. I need to be sensitive to what makes that happen, as my teenagers and husband hate that in me. It drives them away. But I also need to assert myself more at the right moments." Admitting the shadow in ourselves or our society can also give a sense of oneness with our other struggling human brothers and sisters who must also deal with their own imperfections.

As with individuals, so with nations. The society that dares to admit its own complexity, light and darkness, has a far better chance of finding effective answers to its internal problems. Its people begin to know how to ask the right questions, and to actually see what they have blindfolded themselves to previously. A quick way for a person or group to take a peek at their own shadow, short of asking a mate or a partner to talk about it in all gentleness, is to imagine who or what bugs them the most. List the qualities that make those "others" so despicable. Without fail, the list will contain a tally of at least some of their own more persistent shadow qualities! We as a nation, therefore, need to ask, "What do we find most despicable in the USSR?" And then to seek to discover where we might be doing some of the same things. (In Latin America? To our minority groups?) Obviously, in a world bristling with nuclear arms, the Russians, the Catholics and Protestants in Ireland, the Israelis and the Arabs, the Iranians and the Iraqis also need to be doing the same exercise.

Shadow repression and the universal tendency of humans to project what they don’t like about themselves onto other people and outside groups is perhaps the single most powerful programming permitting warfare. It is all too easy, as the New Testament asserts, to see the flaw in our brother’s eye and to ignore our own. Furthermore, there is a particular energy of unforgiving hatred surrounding the qualities that we try to keep from seeing in ourselves and instead find in others. We detest those people or nations with a special vehemence. We yearn to eliminate them from the earth, falsely imagining that we then would be free from the gnawing, persistent way the qualities they represent clamor inside to be recognized. Those buried qualities we dare not acknowledge because they seem too terrible, and would spoil our nicely shaped pictures of ourselves, cry for air and recognition. They do threaten our carefully constructed ego pictures and national images, though, ironically, many of them are no more terrible than a sense of our own vulnerability and imperfections, which if we could but own, would make us far more accessible and warm.

Shadow projection is epidemic on a national scale, and sooner or later almost invariably invites hostilities. The true richness and multiplicity and humanness of the identified enemy is denied or ignored. The unconscious need to see only their threatening and sinister aspects – which usually are also present – is too great. There is always some truth in what the shadow projection finds, but inevitably exaggerated because it leaves out any impressions that contradict what it needs to see. It also fails to notice that the very same aspects it detests in its enemies are present in its own policies and spheres of influence. We in the United States are now demonizing the Soviet Union to a frightening degree. Our present leaders blatantly, and with incredible unconsciousness, project onto the USSR what they cannot recognize in themselves, just as rulers of the Communist Bloc have been doing to us for years. Quotations from two of our Presidents help to show this process in action. Former President Nixon writes in his book, The Real War:

"It may seem melodramatic to treat the twin poles of human experience represented by the United States and the Soviet Union as the equivalent of good and evil, light and darkness, God and the Devil: yet if we allow ourselves to think of them in that way, even hypothetically, it can help clarify our perspective on the world struggle. "

President Reagan in a speech to the evangelicals last spring declares:

"We must reject those simpleminded appeasers who declare themselves above it all, and who label both sides equally at fault, who ignore the facts of history and the aggressive impulses of an evil empire, who simply call the arms race a giant misunderstanding and thereby remove themselves from the struggle between right and wrong and good and evil!"

This is the same archetype that, like the Mundrucus of Brazil, divides the world into "us" and "them." It sees all evil as out there, and all good as within its own borders, black and white, God and the Devil. We might hear these words with more equanimity if they did not come from one of the men in the world who has the awesome power to press a button and thereby destroy most of civilization, if not all life on the planet! The leaders of the Soviet Union, so as not to make shadow projection the prerogative of any one group, have been depicting us as the personification of greed, aggression, darkness and evil as a near daily ritual for over 40 years. Neither side seems able to glimpse or acknowledge the monstrous, brutal side of their own shadow that continues to make nuclear bombs that would kill millions upon millions of innocent men, women and children. Each side rationalizes their armament buildup as merely needed "defense" without realizing that these armaments are a totally ineffective defense against that which most disturbs and threatens them – their own shadow.

Whether or not we feel worthy or ready, we humans alive today are challenged to become a new breed of heros. If we are not to annihilate ourselves, we must find ways to make the quantum leap into a new kind of consciousness. The Golden Rule and Buddha’s teachings on compassion must of necessity become vital daily practices, equally among our fellow in-group as with the foreign strangers across the seas. It may also be, as many are saying, that we must re-develop a sense of the sacredness of the earth if we are to save it. In all this, we are called upon to become fully aware of the psychological coding that has shaped much of our social behavior since the dawning of mankind, and then be prepared to counter its destructive aspects. As Anthony Stevens says, "There is an urgent biological imperative to make the shadow conscious." We must squarely face the evil that our greed or self- centeredness or lust for power – hidden from ourselves as these qualities most frequently are – accomplishes. We must become so aware of the falseness and now dangers of shadow projection that we no longer tolerate it on any level of our personal or national lives. We must stop placing the enemy archetype onto other human groups, but move it instead to the common enemies of all humankind: nuclear war, pollution of the planet, inequality and hunger. Stopping war requires, above all, knowing ourselves.

Virginia Hoyte is a psychological counselor, living in Seattle, Washington.

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