“Thirty-seven years ago, Congress passed the Age Discrimination crimination in Employment Act(ADEA) which makes it illegal for an employer or union to discharge, refuse to hire, or otherwise discriminate on the basis of age.”(Cox, 2011). It is obvious from the passing of this bill that the elderly in the american workforce have faced discrimination and hardships at the hands of their younger counterparts. Why do younger person’s discriminate against the elderly in the workplace and in society at large? This answer can be attempted by viewing this as a psychological projection either consciously or unconsciously from the young onto the old. This projection is rooted in cultural understandings and fears about the elderly and the unconscious projection of archetypes from the collective unconscious. We will examine both the personal and collective projections onto the elderly are why this leads to social discrimination.
Projections can be from a negative and a positive place in the human psyche. However the issue of discrimination against the elderly is from an obvious negative projection. What would the young have to project onto the old that is so negative? One aspect is the mystery of death and aging, which many younger people associate with fear and not wanting to acknowledge mortality. This can be understood by specific archetypes that represent the Father and Mother in the collective unconscious. Carl Jung, like Sigmund Freud, understood that the family dynamic was very important to a child’s psyche. The two heads of the family, Father and Mother, are both represented in the unconscious of the psyche. How our relationships are with our actual parents and the psychological feelings and experiences we gain from them are all derived from existing archetypes. The negative projections of these archetypes onto elderly people, manifest themselves from a unconscious fear of death.
The fear of the unknown, which is directly linked with death, is one of the reasons for a negative projection onto the elderly. Jungian analysts have discovered an interesting expression of both the Father and Mother archetypes which are directly linked to death. The Father archetype is connected with death in the context of the Wise Old Man. “Eventually, however, the old man dies(usually by jumping into an abyss, ocean or other symbol of the feminine), returns to the uroborus, and the cycle of the masculine begins again.” (Samuels, 1985) Once the Wise Old Man, the guiding principle of the Father archetype, loses its usage for the individual psyche, it “dies” usually linked to the feminine in the unconscious.
The feminine aspect of the psyche is represented to a certain extent by the Mother archetype. Like, the Father, this archetype can be represented in the context of death and hence can bring fear to a person’s psyche. Symbolic representations of the “negative” Mother can be seen in many myths and stories. Kali, goddess of death in Hindu theology, is depicted with severed heads, standing on a dead corpse, blood dripping from her tongue. “The figure of the Terrible Mother dominates the pre-Hellenic as well as the early Greek worlds with the same archetypal symbolism.”(Neumann, 1963). The Gorgon Medusa with her gaze of death, as well as Scylla the monster from Homer’s Odyssey which lead sailors to their watery deaths against the rocks, are all representatives of this “negative feminine” greek symbolism. Ilamatecuhtli, the Aztec goddess of death is depicted as overseeing the afterlife which is very much like the Christian views of Hell. Pain and agony are associated with the afterlife for many, until the rebirth takes place.(Neumann, 1963).
These mysteries of death associated with rebirth is a motif that is depicted in mythology and theology. It is no strange thing that psychologically both the Father and Mother archetypes deal with death in a specific aspect of their existence in the collective psyche of man. Until these mysteries can be understood by the Ego(consciousness) of individuals, then a negative, fearful projection shall be placed onto the elderly, and discrimination will continue in our society.