Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft where we are hard, and cynical where we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand…Even when they enter deep into our world or sink below us, they still think that they are better than we are. They are different. – F. Scott Fitzgerald
We’ve tried to understand what motivates working-class hatred. Now when the wealthy engage in conservative politics, they do so in a somewhat rational, if short-sighted, effort to maintain their own wealth and privilege. They do not perceive themselves as victims.
Or at least that used to be the case. For the past twenty years now, the United States has seen a relatively new phenomenon: individuals and families – the Kochs, the Mercers, the Waltons, the Uihleins, Sheldon Adelson, Rupert Murdoch, Jeff Bezos, Bernard Marcus, Paul Singer, Betsy DeVoss and other members of Donald Trump’s cabinet, among the 540 billionaires in the U.S. – who have absolutely dominated politics. These are the American olligarchs.
The media, of course, never describe them as such, preferring to apply the term only to Russians, as if the mega-rich in America choose to remain above the fray and stay home counting their money. Here is another aspect of American myth: we really don’t hate the rich as people do in other countries, because we subscribe to bogus assumptions that we might someday join them.
I’m not talking about your average, run-of-the-mill, arriviste, rich person with only one or two billion in assets. Some of these people have worked hard for their fortunes and remain somewhat insecure about their status in comparison with those who are much wealthier, and are still in the game of influencing politicians toward the goal of maximizing their wealth.
In the past several election cycles these people have donated inconceivably massive amounts of money to politicians. They give primarily to Republicans of course. But not always: Barack Obama collected more money from Wall Street than anyone befo...
Certainly, some of this activity represents conventional quid pro pro investment. But at a certain point, materialist analysis fails us.
What motivates these people? Most of them are not fundamentalist Christians. They don’t seem to be angry about losing status relative to women and people of color as the rank-and-file Tea-Partiers are (even as the Kochs have sustained them financially for many years).
Ideology? The Kochs and the Mercers in particular, have been described as “libertarian purists,” who passionately hate government regulation with religious intensity, who really believe that their philosophies, if fully enacted, would transform the world and improve all our lives.
I suppose some of them are as mentally and certainly as morally unstable as Trump appears to be, since their wealth has insulated them from the consequences of their actions. I suppose it’s easy to subscribe to crazy ideologies that deny the facts of climate change – even when they have more information about it than we do – when you live on an estate, tended by a flock of servants. It’s easy – in an America that blames the poor for their own condition and reassures the wealthy that they are among the saved – to feel that you are entitled to your wealth simply because you have it, to be unaware of Balzac’s charge that “At the base of every great fortune there is a great crime.”
It may even be easy to convince yourself that you pulled yourself entirely up by your own bootstraps – that white privilege, huge inheritances, elite educations, bought politicians, massive government subsidies and tax credits had nothing to do with it. As Jim Hightower said of George Bush Sr., he was “born on third base and thought he had hit a triple.”
But psychoanalyzing such people doesn’t get us very far. We need to understand the myths that they embody. That’s easy enough with Trump supporters (sorry if you think I’m being too judgmental): the myth of innocence is collapsing as quickly as the economy, and along with it their privileged sense of masculine, productive, gun-toting, heroic, white supremacy. They are pissed, especially at you and me, whom they have been taught to perceive as having destroyed their world with our “liberal” values. And let's compartmentalize our compassion for a minute and acknowledge that large numbers of them are viciously, proudly racist (see my comparison above between white and black evangelicals). But I’m talking about the people who pay the bills for all the hate, the one percent of the one percent.
I’m trying to understand the myths that drive these people. It seems clear that they are enacting our national myths of innocence, exceptionalism and manifest destiny for us. But to go deeper we have look at three archetypes: the Warrior, the King and the Apocalypse. The Warrior serves the King, but they both have the potential of serving the Apocalypse. And we can’t really understand any of these themes without considering a fourth archetype that I’ve already been talking about: initiation.
The racist, misogynist, rage-filled, working-class white male has long seen himself as embodying the American Hero narrative. But that hero is the toxic mimic of another, more mature archetypal figure. Jungians Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette envision a four-part masculine soul divided into the King (the image of order, blessing and fertility), Lover (relatedness and deep passion for life), Magician (awareness and insight) and Warrior (focused aggression and devotion to a cause). Each of these archetypes is divided into an immature, “boy psychology” image and a mature, initiated “man psychology.”
In this demythologized world, we certainly should not be surprised to read that “…most men are fixated at an immature level of development.” This is what we mean by “boy psychology,” and from an indigenous perspective, it is the source of all our current problems. Simply put, America and all of its institutions have been ruled for a very long time by uninitiated boys in men’s bodies. See Chapter Five of my book for a detailed discussion of this issue.
The immature form of the Warrior in the modern world is what we know as the hero. This macho man overcompensates for his insecurities, either bragging of his potency or smoldering in silence. He is brittle and easily provoked.
At bottom, he is deeply wounded, but his grief has no outlet other than rage. And it is yet another source of that grief and rage that American culture offers him almost no way to access his natural affinity – what indigenous initiation rites might have recognized in him – for the Warrior archetype. To imagine this dilemma in somewhat positive terms: the Hero, in his soul of souls, wishes to be recognized as the Warrior.
The warrior’s courage and discipline are intended for service. He hones himself into “an efficient spiritual machine…to bear the unbearable” for the express purpose of serving a transpersonal goal, not his own ego and certainly not white supremacy, celebrities or capitalism. The hero may vanquish the beast. But if he doesn’t enact the third part of the initiation story, returning with a boon for his community, his heroism becomes pathological and he remains a boy.
And here is the connection between the immature, American Hero and the King he can only serve through rage and demonization of the Other; between the foot soldiers of the alt-right and the oligarchs who actually subsidize their hate.
In all functioning, indigenous mythologies, the archetypal Sacred King is in relationship – to the realm, and to the divine queen, who is The Earth. Together, they personify that cause or community, which is composed of the entirety of its inhabitants, human, animal, plant as well as the unseen spirits and ancestors.
But archetypes can force their way into our lives in astonishing and destructive ways. Such iconic figures as Adolf Hitler, Marilyn Monroe and David Koresh were all seized by archetypes. In Jungian terms, these historical persons became identified with the archetypes rather than being conduits for their energies. And to the extent that we lack awareness, we become possessed by the shadow of that archetype. The King has both an active and a passive shadow, his uninitiated, immature aspects.
The active pole is the Tyrant, who cannot and will not create anything or bless others. He is concerned only with power, control and self-aggrandizement. Instead of channeling or embodying the archetype of the King, he believes that he is the King, literally the center of the universe. He is inflated, narcissistic, grandiose and entitled and assumes that conventional moral restraints don’t apply to him. Curiously, since he has a scarcity mentality, he objectifies all others and exploits them for his own purposes.
Greek myth acknowledged the damage that powerful but uninitiated men could do: Grandiose King Erysichthon cut down a sacred oak. Demeter cursed him with insatiable hunger, throwing him into a frenzy of consumption. He ate everything and everyone in his kingdom, ultimately consuming himself. The king who couldn’t bless ended up destroying the realm.
The passive pole of the Shadow King – the Weakling – lies just below consciousness. In this manifestation, he is indecisive, depressed, incapable of leadership or blessing and of course, extremely insecure. Underneath every blustering Tyrant is a Weakling, and underneath every cowering Weakling is a Tyrant waiting to explode.
He must embody that transpersonal cause, or his own image, like that of Narcissus, will become that cause, and his followers will be, for a time, obsessed with his “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” Sooner or later, however, his great towers will unconsciously provoke the Dionysian Stranger who will puncture his grandiosity. And those towers will become targets, because his followers, angry at his inability to embody that Sacred King, will turn on him when he can no longer distract them with scapegoats to sacrifice. He knows this.
And this is the rage connection to his foot soldiers. Privilege is privilege, whether it derives from the illusion of racial superiority or from inconceivably massive wealth, because – like Dionysus himself – it leaks through the cracks of the ego and establishes itself in the core of one’s identity. But the shadow King is just as angry at his uninitiated condition as his followers are at theirs. Despite being at the center of the realm, emotionally he remains an outsider, and his followers, perceiving this, temporarily identify with him in their wounded state.
So any perceived threat to his authority and supremacy, his assumptions of entitlement (isn’t it curious that musicians are legally entitled to royalty payments?), no matter how minor, also threatens to puncture the bubble of his inflated grandiosity and release the grief and the rage at the core of his self, just as it does with them.
Donald Trump represents the logical extreme of uninitiated, man-boy rulers that has manifested progressively for centuries. His charisma lies in the fact (or the brand) that he genuinely appears to be as insecure, unstable and fragile as his followers. And, except for his classless style, I see no reason to believe that he is any different in essence – in the entitled grandiosity – of those who are far wealthier than he is.
Married or not, such men are utterly disconnected from relationship with the feminine. Together, in their implied hatred for the Earth itself, they compose an entire class of shadow Kings. They embody a condition that Paul Shepard identified twenty years ago:
We may now be the possessors of the world’s flimsiest identity structure where history, masquerading as myth, authorizes men…to alter the world to match their regressive moods of omnipotence and insecurity.
We are talking about psychopaths and sociopaths, men who speak with reassuringly sincere voices yet are completely amoral. Studies indicate that many corporate CEOs are actual psychopaths, who
…have a profound lack of empathy…use other people callously and remorselessly for their own ends… pathological liars, master con artists, and heartless manipulators. Easily bored, they crave constant stimulation, so they seek thrills from real-life “games” they can win – and take pleasure from their power over other people.
We are also talking about how, beginning with Johnson, American Presidents began to take the “Commander-in-Chief” title quite literally and bypassed both Congress and their generals in deciding when to go to war. It was a new trend in which the nation has confused the two very separate archetypes of King and Warrior.
Of course, such men, well compensated as they are, merely work for the truly wealthy. But it seems natural to assume that it takes one to know one.
Perhaps we can understand men who sponsor torturers, climate deniers and drug smugglers (international drug trafficking has been controlled by the ultra-wealthy since the Opium Wars of the 19th century) only by comparing them to the original conquistadores. These men, writes James Wilson, lived “an apparently insoluble compound” of greed, cruelty, deceit, opportunism – and an absolutely literal, legalistic, church-sanctioned piety that assured them of their own salvation.
This is the bizarre logic of the modern Calvinists, regardless of whether or not they are overtly religious. In our mythology, their (usually inherited) state of infinite entitlement indicates without doubt that they are already saved, so evil deeds are irrelevant to their salvation. Since the “chosen” are above morality, they have no morality. They have the potential to be infinitely good or infinitely evil.
But their psychology – their underlying insecurity, grief and rage – determines the moral direction in which they move, even as they convince themselves of their perfectly benign intentions. What, we might wonder, is more important: the huge donation for a new hospital or art museum, the tax write-off or the fact that it will be named for them? None of this began with Trump. What are we to make of a Supreme Court Justice – Antonin Scalia – who publicly stated that there is nothing unconstitutional about executing innocent people?