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  • Writer's pictureZenho Chad Bennett

Cleaning Up Collective Postmodernism

When thinking of defining collective consciousness and collective unconsciousness, I remember being a student in England when I was brought to a football match. Football culture in Europe is an ideology of its own and the seats I sat in were just a few yards from the dividing line of one team’s fan base from another. I was excited but shocked and uncomfortable to see the verbal and physical altercations.

I’ve reflected since that if I had interviewed people individually from both sides of the mob a week earlier, virtually none of them would report being prone to violence and they may not have even disclosed how much their team meant to them. But when they got together, watch out! Two collective mobs emerged around “Our team is the best, and yours is not worthy of our consideration”. So for our purposes, the collective consciousness of a culture would equate to “Our team is best because…” and the collective unconscious would be anybody not on the team and “not worthy of our consideration”.

All levels of human development are subject to this “our team” syndrome and postmodern consciousness tends to gravitate toward the collective conscious belief system outlined below. Like the football fans, this is not to say that every individual who identifies as postmodern has these attributes but if we brought numerous individuals together to discuss important issues, the center of gravity in a postmodern belief system- “our team”- would look something like this:

1. Everyone is entitled to an equal voice

2. Truth is relative, culturally constructed

3. Favor being harmonious

4. Favor being nice

5. Sympathetic with the narrative of victims or the oppressed

6. Against judging others

These are “good” agreements, right? Collective postmodernism has done and will continue to do its work to expose and correct the collective unconscious of prior levels of development. For example, the traditional worldview while being civilized, rule and order based, with God as sacred (collective conscious) also has limitations by being ethnocentric, racist, misogynistic, and rigid in its creed (collective unconscious). Then, in part to correct traditional prejudices, modernity consciousness collectively arose during the Enlightenment which showed promise of rationalism, progress, science and democracy (collective conscious) but has clearly come up short in areas such as oppressive hierarchy, environmental degradation, and greed driven policies which favor the privileged (collective unconscious). Hence the postmodern collective order which began to gather steam in the 1960s.

Notice that in the list of collective beliefs of postmodernity outlined above, only the collective conscious- “our team”- elements are displayed. If you identify with the conscious aspects above as “good” and don’t see any collective unconscious, this is a perfect opportunity to have empathy for the traditional and modernist worldviews. The fact is that none of us can see what is unconscious in the level of development that we are in. We are all flying blind to our prejudices until we at least cognitively grow into the next order of consciousness. So in order to demonstrate some of the potentially unconscious views of collective postmodernity (“the team not worthy of our consideration”), I’ve added to the original points to reveal some of its aspects which may be in shadow.

1. Everyone is entitled to an equal voice except for anyone who doesn’t see it that way. It is very difficult for postmodernists to see the prejudice against any form of prejudice which thereby negates its view of equality. The “other team” is anyone who is not postmodernist or is not a perceived victim of inequality. All other developmental levels which postmodernists seek to correct definitely do not get equal consideration.

2. Truth is relative, culturally constructed and therefore should be deconstructed. Unfortunately, this propensity strips postmodernists of a basis for discernment of good ideas from bad ideas, negating the ground for a foundation of ethics. Having a debate within the collective of postmodernism is a quagmire of these truth contradictions. There is no real truth except “my truth” and the implicit truth that you need to be egalitarian and politically correct which means often we don’t get to the truth. Additionally, a philosophy of Absolute Truth, which can’t be deconstructed, is often discarded, arresting further spiritual development.

3. Favor being harmonious over being direct, truthful, or making anyone feel uncomfortable. If harmony is the ethic of “our team” then dissenting voices- which may even express wisdom requiring disharmony- are the “other team”, another interesting contradiction because the voice of dissent is what postmodernism is all about. The truth is often uncomfortable and disharmonious.

4. Favor being nice and project or repress negative emotions, especially anger and hopelessness, often expressing them through passive aggression. Passive aggression is very difficult to get a handle on from inside the postmodern collective. In some ways it is more damaging than “active aggression” because it is harder to point to and lays deep in shadow. Postmodernists have largely cut themselves off from the clarity and boundary- setting wisdom of anger, yet may have a tendency to be outwardly aggressive toward hierarchy, discipline or rules resulting in a wobbly, politically insolvent, undisciplined and self-victimizing world view.

5. Sympathetic with the narrative of victims or the oppressed and see themselves as rescuers and view history as plagued by perpetrators. The postmodern collective has not yet done well to distinguish dominator (socially imposed) hierarchies from naturally occurring hierarchies. While its goal to protect victims and seek justice from perpetrators is noble and in many cases justified, the postmodernist rescuer lens does not see the world objectively; by habitually rescuing others, postmodernists disown their own victims which are then projected, amplifying a world “out there” that is full of perpetrators and victims. Ironically, when this projection is not reclaimed, postmodernists give away their own sense of power and collapse into the victim they are trying to eradicate. This can lead to subtle, passive aggressive perpetration against perpetrators and in extreme cases biting violence, all the while trying to maintain a view of equality. If this feels utterly murky, we are getting a taste of the collective unconscious of post modernity.

(On a personal note, I have witnessed with my psychotherapy clients and experienced for myself that in order to continue developing toward wholeness, each of our victims needs not only to be rescued and protected from perpetrators but to be faced and healed, sometimes through hard going shadow and trauma work. In other words, the postmodernist is partly accurate that the victim in all of us does need to be held, seen, heard and protected from immediate threat but it ultimately also needs to be illuminated, confronted, and reclaimed until we no longer see the world through the lens of the Drama Triangle- victim, rescuer, perpetrator. Great discernment and care is needed to determine case by case what is needed for each individual and collective but the main point is that postmodernism has collectively gathered around a rescuer archetype that has a propensity to see its disowned victimization everywhere but in its own interior).

6. Against judging others, interprets criticism as shaming and does not differentiate feeling unsafe from feeling uncomfortable. “Our team” has made an unconscious agreement to avoid feeling uncomfortable so when shame is triggered, there’s a movement toward blaming either self or other or to withdraw into “safe spaces” which, while sometimes appropriate, are often another go round in the Drama Triangle. Postmodernists often fail to dig the gold out of being criticized or judged and often try to repress all judgments of their own which leak out as passive aggressive withdrawal and resentment. Postmodernists may only want to hear what is good about themselves or adopt a strengths-based, positive psychology ideology, which results in increased narcissism and many opportunities are missed to grow from integrating pain, failure, and shadow material.

Is this feeling heavy yet? If so, I say “good news”. Obviously, postmodernism has done much to correct the shortcomings of previous levels of development and those have not been the focus of this article. The reason is because a natural catalyst of Growing Up is seeing and experiencing the limitations we bind ourselves in both individually and collectively. In a sense, traditionalism felt heavy before the emergence of modernity and modernity felt heavy before the emergence of postmodernity. If this is feeling heavy we may be growing out of our collapsed ideology. If we are seeking lightness, let’s make a new emergent collective agreement to not turn away from our development by blindly agreeing to be comfortable, harmonious, nice, or safe.

How do we keep growing? This is a topic requiring a blog of its own but here is a sketch of some suggestions:

1) Wake Up- Meditate as much as possible. Cultivating witnessing awareness is a practice which leads us to insight about our individual and collective limits. Ultimately, witnessing is the fourth, ever-present point of the drama triangle- free from its grasp- and the resolution into the freedom beyond all belief systems. Seek out and cultivate a philosophy of Absolute Truth and walk the path.

2) Grow Up- Grow your belief system by gaining a basic understanding of the orders of human development. Knowing that your egoic process can’t escape from being an individual in a collective culture, discover more about the gifts and shadows of “your team”. Allow for the discomfort of cognitive dissonance (hypocrisy) in your belief system. Research has shown that a belief system that includes a cognitive understanding of human development is helpful in accelerating individual development. This will also help us to serve others in a way that is appropriate to each individual’s level of development rather than oppressing them with our own ideology.

3) Clean Up-Do shadow work with a teacher or psychotherapist. We all have shadows both individually and collectively and unearthing what we can’t see is our responsibility to bear if we have the ego strength to do so. This will require being uncomfortable which is synonymous with growing. You may also benefit from deep trauma work to reclaim and heal your own victim before emphasizing change from others.

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