Sunday, April 16, 2017

The hero and his shadow: psychopolitical aspects of myth and reality in Israel

In an era of faked and alternative news, and when Netanyahu wants the media to be his shofar, a megaphone for him, his family and his government, I was reminded of Moscow in the 1970s, which I mention in the beginning of my book The Hero and His Shadow

Return to the Source

Psychiatric diagnoses change in the course of time not only because of increasing knowledge and accumulated wisdom, but also according to the zeitgeist; that is, the prevailing collective consciousness. For instance, a biological understanding of mental phenomena is prominent during periods of conservatism, while environmental influences are accentuated during periods of greater liberalism (Group for the Advancement of Psychiatry [GAP] 1983, p. 14; Shalit & Davidson 1986, p. 61).  When one view dominates, a compensatory one thrives in the backyard.  When psychiatry and medicine are ruled by drugs, biology and technology, there is a complementary interest in alternative medicine and eco-psychology; when genes shape the soul, the psyche influences the immune system.

Psychopathology changes over time, and so, for example, anorexia – reminding us that there is a fatness of soul behind the fragility of body – takes the place of hysteria, which used to tell us that there is libido behind the girdle.  The anger and the boredom of the borderline personality replace the guilt and the internal conflict of the neurotic. Meaninglessness and alienation substitute repression and anxiety. 

A society’s prevailing collective consciousness influences the perception of psychopathology.  While visiting Moscow in the mid-1970s, I was surprised to see so many people walking in the street talking to themselves, freely hallucinating.  I realized that private madness did not disrupt the delusion of the collective, while publicly telling the truth was a malaise in need of hospital ‘treatment.’

Psychologist and society are interrelated.  This relationship becomes particularly critical when society is governed by a powerful ideology or Weltanschauung, with a concomitant stress on adaptation and conformity, or in case of a totalitarian regime.  During the years of the military junta in Argentina, many of those seeking out the psychoanalytic temenos, the protected space of therapeutic rapport, needed to know the analyst’s political stance in order to confide in him or her and to feel protected from the persecuting authorities.

Psychology (and medicine) can be put in the hands of a totalitarian regime and used for purposes of interrogation and torture.  The ultimate transformation from healer to killer, the mechanism by which one is engulfed and participates in a regime’s distortions, is described by Lifton (1986) in The Nazi Doctors.  On February 25, 1994 – half a year after the Oslo accords, which marked the beginning of a process which seemed to lead to reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians – the physician Baruch Goldstein brutally killed twenty-nine praying Muslims from behind, in the Cave of Abraham, holy both to Muslims and Jews.  His act was carried out with the sharpness of a surgeon’s scalpel, in Hebron, that most sensitive spot on the Middle East map of conflict, and may have caused an escalation in Palestinian terrorist attacks.  Yet, for both Palestinian and Israeli, all too often it seems that the destruction that follows when the shadow is cast onto the other, carries less weight than the burdensome recognition of the shadow within oneself.


Preface        The Beggar in the Hero’s Shadow       
Chapter 1    Return to the Source                
Chapter 2    From My Notebook              
Chapter 3    From Dream to Reality              
Chapter 4    Origins and Myths              
Chapter 5    From Redemption to Shadow          
Chapter 6    Wholeness Apart                
Chapter 7    Myth, Shadow and Projection       
Chapter 8    A Crack in the Mask           
Chapter 9    The Death of the Mythical and the Voice of the Soul

Psychiatrist Carl Jung wrote in The Red Book of the distinction between “The Spirit of the Times” and “The Spirit of the Depths”. We see this vividly demonstrated when we put Ari Shavit’s acclaimed new book My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel alongside Erel Shalit’s classic work, The Hero and His Shadow: Psychopolitical Aspects of Myth and Reality in Israel.

The former takes us through the history of the heroic creation of Israel, including the darkest “shadow” behaviors of the Jewish state in the 1948 massacre of the Arabs of Lydda.

In the latter work, Erel Shalit tells us why.

This is no simplistic psychological analysis. The brilliance of this Israeli Jungian analyst is that he offers no easy solutions, plumbing the paradox of the necessary heroic identity of the Jewish state, and yet, around every corner is the shadow of every hero: the beggar, the frightened one, the part of all of us that is dependent on forces outside of our control.

It is also very important to note that Erel Shalit’s book is fascinating reading for anyone interested in the inner workings of the soul. On one level Israel is the backdrop for the author to explore how shadow, myth, and projection work in all of us, regardless of our life circumstance, nationality, environment, or history. It even includes a comprehensive glossary of Jungian terms that has some of the best definitions I have ever encountered, and hence a find for readers new to Jung.

And, of course, for people who are fascinated by the scope and depth of the story of Israel, this is a simply great read. It stands alone, but read as a companion to Ari Shavit’s My Promised Land, Erel Shalit’s Hero and His Shadow gives us The Spirit of the Depths in all its dimension. We may not be able to resolve the Arab/Israeli conflict, but we can learn many things from this brave, complex Israeli author, that we can apply to healing the inner and outer wars in our own lives.

Reviewed by Elizabeth Clark-Stern, author of On the Doorstep of the CastleOut of the Shadows, and Soul Stories.

This is a fascinating book. Shalit’s thesis is that when we examine the psychology of Zionism, we find two parallel but opposing trends. On the one hand, we see the hero, the warrior, the pioneer, the fearless man of doing.
   On the other hand, we see the shadow, the dark side, the Diaspora-side, the weak and fearful. We came here with our shadow. You see this dichotomy between the internal feeling of strength and forcefulness, and on the other hand a terrible fear.
   In order to properly understand Israeli society and the sometimes strange responses in certain political circumstances, we need to understand this terrible fear that is hidden within us.
Prof.  Yoram Yovell, author and psychoanalyst.

An outstanding psychological study of one of the world’s most complicated and fraught political situations.
Prof. Andrew Samuels

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