Tag Archives: soul

Politics as Soul Therapy

Daily, social-security-releated problems such as robberies, thefts, legitimate defenses or not, terrorist attacks, collapsing viaducts, etc. are said to have to be dealt with. We also  hear regular discussions about disorganization in hospitals (with episodes of malpractice) or in schools, immigration or the perception of “the other”, the one different from us, inconvenience in commuting and so on. Now, as any ordinary newscast is used to do, we introduce the political side by saying: “and now let’s move to politics”, as if politics was something completely different from what was said before. Different from environmental pollution, unemployment, lack of work or problems at work: different from the most delicate existential and ethical issues on the meaning of life and its end.

Nevertheless, as it often happens, it is precisely in the meaning of the term that the original and most authentically positive dimension is found: the term “Politics” comes from the Greek “Pólis”, “city”. Therefore, it implicitly alludes to “the government, the care, the caring and the preoccupation with the issues of the city” and by extension, to “the care, organization, and government of all areas and territorial bodies of coexistence (that includes localities, urban areas, cities, provinces, regions, nations, supranational realities)”.

For this reason, politics must be re-discovered in its original light, as a cure, here on earth, capable of restoring dignity, brightness and positivity to a dimension that too often is confused with its shadow: corruption, occult embezzlement, intrigue, profiteering and, or, with the support of political power: strategies – more or less legitimate – for the employment of top government bodies positions and public administration, exclusively motivated by party affiliation or with the party to which they belong as the sole reference factor, sometimes disregarding completely any meritocratic, competitive or individual ethical criterion; alliances between parties for the constitution of a parliament majority, the birth and disintegration of coalitions, the adoption or the derailing of legislative measures: the so-called ‘partitocracy’ (or party politics) and the connected phenomenon of partitocratic subdivision.

But politics isn’t necessarily power for power’s sake; not only this, indeed.

Politics is feminine, it is Soul, care, sensitivity, respect for plurality – of the different traditions, the different belonging, the individual stories – the plurality that the word “Politics” has in its root Poly (from the Greek Polius, “many”); it is rooted in many words, such as “polyfunctional”, “polycentric”, “polycultural”, always as an indication of plurality, diversity (of quality, not quantity) of what follows.

Politics as a cure for Anima Mundi, caring and concerning for the world in which we live, the local events as well as the national and international, inspired by the ancient idea of “Soul of the world” that connects everything.

In order to understand politics as the caring of the Anima Mundi[1] we are also solicited by the work of James Hillman, who in his “Politics of Beauty”[2] expresses himself as follows:


Where we are less able, what make us suffer more and in which we anesthetize ourselves, what we remove most – with earplugs, bolts, alcohol, electronics, hi-fi, coffee and shopping – is the world out there: Polis. We remove the psyche from the polis and we are unconscious to it: it’s the polis of the unconscious.

We have become hyper-conscious patients and analysts, very aware individuals, very subtly interiorized and very unconscious citizens… The world does not ask us to be believed in itself; the world just asks that we become aware of it, that we appreciate it and that we have attention and care for it.


Hillman emphasizes the importance of dealing with things concerning the external world with a psychological perspective, attention to detail and individuality; but not only  must we address to the so-called “inner world”, with its symbolic, semiotic and metaphorical language, as psychoanalysis has done too often in its history, a little bit guiltily since its birth[3], but rather turning with the prerogatives of this perspective to the exterior world, “real”, out there, the polis, the environment and the problems of coexistence.

And since this is the real field of politics, only by dealing with this can the citizens become more conscious; through it, the individual expresses himself and becomes a total being and the world becomes better.

A “psychoanalysis of the polis” seems to suggest Hillman (from these considerations came the idea and foundation of our Institute of Psychoanalysis of Politics, the first of its kind), where it is no longer just the individual and his inner world to be protagonists of the setting, but where “the world out there”, with its frantic and stressful rhythms, its ecological disasters (e.g. the invasion of microplastics in the seas and oceans, the persistence of an energy supply of activities still too much based on highly polluting fossil fuels, such as coal and oil, the main causes of global warming) and an urban environment made of artificial and polluting materials (concrete, asphalt, plastics, aluminum, efficient, functional and economical[4] as much as you want, but also very harmful for our physical and psychological health; materials that have deeply cut the healthy and vital relationship with the natural world made of wood, grass, green, trees, which in addition to casting us shadows, remove carbon dioxide to give us oxygen) becomes the protagonist of our experience.

The cornerstone of a pre-Socratic “Anima Mundi” idea returns.


The most important thing is that depression is a collective endemic disease and we feel it and think it’s just inside our brain. “In… my family, in my marriage, in my work, in my economy”… We have brought all this into a “me”. Instead, if there is an Anima Mundi, if there is a Soul of the World – and we are part of the Soul of the World – then what happens in the external Soul also happens to me and so I feel the extinction of the plants, animals, cultures, languages, customs, crafts, stories… They’re all disappearing. Of course, my soul necessarily feels a sensation of loss, of loneliness, of isolation, of mourning and nostalgia, and sadness too: it is the reflection in me of a matter of fact. And if I do not feel depressed, then I’m crazy! This is the real disease! I would be completely excluded from the reality of what is happening in the world, the ecological destruction.[5]


This is the reason why politics, also inspired by the fundamental Jungian conception of “collective unconscious” – the interview in which Jung himself declares that the “collective unconscious” is the idea that he considers perhaps most fruitful and that he feels most fond of -, can be seen as the alchemical art of healing, mixing, synthesizing the different principles (“Principia” as Paracelsus would say), Various ἀρχή, who find themselves acting, not infrequently in conflict and in reciprocal countertendency, in interior and individual life as well as in the events and situations of collective life. The motions, the mechanisms and the motives of the Soul and of physics are one, to know them as phenomena or noumena, interior or exterior, comes instead from different disciplinary perspectives, but they remain one thing only: knowledge of the Soul, Aletheia, Epistrophé.

Precisely for this reason and to realize this curative dimension of politics it becomes necessary also to know the mechanisms (and related failures) that regulate their life, to get an idea of what are the main “political psychopathologies” and possibly be able to identify some solution to answer therapeutically.

The first pathology probably resides in the disaffection with politics, in the emotional distance that is perceived with increasing evidence with respect to this dimension, seen more and more as “dirty”, the “psychic shadow” place of systematic deception and lying, where to become cleverer, even in defiance of every more ethically respectable rule of cohabitation, has become positive – to such perverse consequences led the “bad politics”! After all, the “good politics” was and still is paid at a high price, even with life itself, by those who become its interpreters.

This purulent rupture between subjectivity and politics, the art of dealing with the polis and the world, has produced the symptoms of electoral abstention – the percentage of citizens who vote and / or who trust in a party (emblematic, among many others, was the case of the latest regional elections in Emilia Romagna, where the percentage of voters was only 37.5% against the previous rounds that had seen a percentage of 70% and above; practically the last time voted half of those who usually went to the polls!).

This decline is not an isolated and occasional fruit, but has been repeated at all local and national administrative consultations in recent years; there is a progressive mistrust associated and coming from politics, a dimension of speaking without maintaining, of unreliability, irresponsibility, disloyalty – a progressive and very marked distancing of citizens from participatory processes, which is by no means casual; but strongly desired by the political class (leaders of parties, parliamentarians, regional and municipal councilors) who certainly do not want to question themselves in their role of representation and therefore do not intend to hazard a consultation of direct democracy (i.e. Referendum and Deliberative Assemblies, municipal or local, open to resident citizens and therefore not only consultative as the institute of the “debàt publique”), even with respect to the problems that affect citizens more directly and sentimentally, and that could be denied here, as well as in the positions taken, even in their role as protagonists in the press and mass media.

He who works in professional politics (in which, with the connected limit of two mandates, we would have nothing to object) does not want to lose the role and sinecures connected, it is understandable, but in doing so produces the negative, perverse, highly harmful symptoms mentioned above: the disaffection, the electoral absenteeism, the drastic decline in participation not only in decision-making processes, but also in active political life (in parties, movements, associations)… it is now understood that in these contexts those who make the voice bigger and bigger, he who has more ability to resist and be arrogant, aggressive and generally get also away with it… politics now is no longer, assuming it has ever been, a dimension for kind and sensitive souls.

The political framework, practically everywhere (even if in Italy we seem more apparent, but perhaps it is only because we live here), is based on a permanent conflict, “us or them”, where we are the citizens, spotless workers, honest and strenuous, but defeated (even to survive or live in dignity and they, “politicians or public administrators”, dishonest, shady, climbed to the bench with methods at least impervious, corrupt, “shadow incarnate”, object of every abject consideration already firstly, condemned even before any investigation as enriched unworthily and unfairly, economically as well as in the position and in social facilities, precisely by virtue of their status as politicians, elected to institutional positions).

This extremely purulent skirmish between “us and them”, between “beautiful and kind souls”, but impotent and “dirty souls, dirty, dishonest, liar and corrupt, hellish”, but powerful, is the cause of the most serious damage and poison in the social fabric, in the social cohesion and social coexistence: what is the polis if not a special and larger condominium?

The same duel, the harsh dyad, which is found in the permanent and vivid opposition between “Left” and “Right”, the two parts of the whole (psychologically the self = single part, party, against the Self = All, Self = State) that are in permanent conflict and skirmish, but that feed upon, or are the fruits of, a vision of politics as war, Polemos; actually, while psychiatry speaks of “bipolar disorder” as a disease to be treated, the politics of the second republic (second, not by chance, remember that the words “duality” and “duel” concearn and are directly derived from “Two”, the number of the conflict – in its positive meaning the Two translates into comparison, dialectics, ambivalence)  had even found in the so-called “bipolarism” or “bipolar system” (in the permanent and ideological opposition “right-of-cetre against center”, ample coalitions, containing anything and everything, and for this reason also a low coefficient of governability) the balm of good politics, that politics antithetical to consociationalism, to which in fact the first decades of republican life, especially since the eighties,  got us used to.

This permanent opposition becomes in political jargon that “crystallized opposition” to which we are now perniciously accustomed and that we mean, mistakenly, as a natural game, according to which, even if today we all see the sky clear, there will always be the part that plays the role of opposition that wants to differentiate forcefully – with a press note, through the spokesman on duty -, perhaps to say “if it’s clear, in two hours it will rain and it is the fault of the government”, or and even more, up to avoiding the obvious: “the sky is not clear”… so far we as know, the perceptual alteration capacity of a conflicting psyche arrives.

If a “situational opposition” is a right, prerogative and guarantee of democratic freedom and expression, the “permanent or crystallized opposition” is a pathology, the pathology of a war policy, inspired by the conflict, the sentence of the general and Prussian military theorist Karl von Clausevitz, according to whom war is nothing more than the continuation of political work by other means – and also vice versa, we are saying here – the symptom and product of the manichaean conflict between Good and Evil: perhaps an inevitable conflict in certain moments of life, but still a primordial conflict between the opposites.

The political vision as alchemy referred to above, aims to reconcile opposites in a framework that is not harmonic, certainly less based on the only taste of war and the acrimonious and permanent confrontation, dual, whose mechanism of “pendulum functionality”, years of center-left government, which are followed literally by years of center-right government, is sincerely banal and decidedly strenuous.

As a therapy to all this we propose to look at the Swiss political system, where the harmful mechanism of “crystallized opposition” does not exist, and it’s replaced by a special and higher level of political awareness, the result of centuries of direct democracy (i.e. Landsgemeinden, Referendum and popular petitions, all institutes that in Switzerland were born many centuries ago) that among other things has been able to produce the so-called “magic formula”, thanks to which for decades Switzerland has made the stability of government a characterizing element like in no other country (the Helvetic Confederation was also left unscathed by the two war conflicts world), where the parties of at least  a minimal representative parliamentary force, right and left, sit together around the same table of government, are in the same executive (not only together in parliament, that is, as it is conceived here by us) and where they dispute on individuals measures to be taken, but, precisely because of greater psychophysical proximity, standing next to the seats of government, much less harsh than commonplace among us.

The proximity in this sense is certainly a factor that reduces political tension; here instead it is often shaken by malevolent factors of personal confrontation between the leaders of the various political forces.

Also for this reason we propose to establish the new figure of the “Street Mayor”, equally as the first political-administrative reference for citizens – it would be up to that Mayor, with his/her office of collaborators, to interface with the departments and departments of the municipal administration, regional, national or otherwise, through its help and support; it is the office of the “mayor of the street” that then gives welcome and receives the new residents, who communicates the works needed to keep the road surfaces, sidewalks, the activation and maintenance of the underground services, the periodic cleaning of the roads (and any other communication necessary to the good management of street cohabitation); it is always this office that helps foreign citizens and the elderly in all the bureaucratic practices (definitively replacing the “Public Relations Offices”) and it would always be this office that becomes an essential point of reference for safety by setting up a voluntary service permanent, 24 hours a day (such as the voluntary service of public assistance, for example) of surveillance and vigilance of one’s own road that supports in a capillary, concrete and widespread way the task entrusted to the police.

Street therefore, the first reality just above the condominium and before the district and the district; these last realities perceptively already less identifiable by the citizens (perhaps Siena apart and as an exception, with its historical and always active “districts”); the street-path, as a basic administrative unit, much less large than the city, the provinces, the regions, the nations and the supranational realities like the European Union, which due to their large size are a sure factor of disaffection and detachment from politics.

The individual in these gigantic dimensions gets lost, becomes debased, is frustrated by the sense of loss of all decision-making power; he/she feels like a grain of sand on a beach, he/she feels he/she does not count for anything. Which, added to the feeling of the postal package serving the needs of the bureaucracy – and not vice versa, as it should be -, makes an explosive mixture of frustration, detachment, resentment, disaffection towards all political actors and towards politics itself, with consequent, very dangerous symptoms of non-participation, electoral abstention and populist indifference.

The psychopathologies of a harbinger  of “Gigantism” and “Titanism”, and not just the result of modern living stressed (stress has to do with the same etymology of the words  “stretch”, “fatigue”) and with anxiety, are curable, find therapies and remedy in the “small is beautiful”: the small size returns the politics to the beauty of attention to details, that Soul which being in the details makes beautiful, hospitable, functional and well-livable a place, a town, a city.

Steve Jobs, founder of Apple, was literally in love with the stones of the streets of central Florence, as many are the sanpietrini of Rome and many others of the labyrinthine alleys of our small villages, of that architecture inspired by the beauty and the sacred of the our villages, the beautiful little villages of central Italy, with their intimate rhythms, the true soul of my country and the authentic cornestone of Italy.

These elements make the “Soul of Places”[6], a harmonious union with the Genius Loci and able, in a well-administered locality, to give us Salus.

Huge realities such as hypermarkets, the United States of America, China, Russia, the European Union that in a period of evident gigantism did not want to lag behind – we prefer, as we have said and written elsewhere, the structure of “European Confederation”[7], certainly more responsive to combining the autonomy and the sovereignty of the single European nations, each with a history often stretching back centuries, with the strength of a center of supranational coordination (perhaps on precise and circumscribed areas and subjects and for example not on the quotas imposed to each State in the production in agriculture and in the agri-food sector, and only for the fact that what we eat and drink more tends to rely on a zero km supply chain, the better it is for health, otherwise for goods and services not perishable and in virtue of their exclusive quality, even if they are free, reciprocal, even if regulated, their exchange and their production) – are the fruits and symptoms of this historical period of gigantism.

But in the eschatology of the Greek myth of which Hesiod speaks, the giants and titans in the end are defeated, defeated by the anthromorphous Deities led by Zeus.

The small and medium wins and will win; there are also famous episodes of sinking of giants’ gigantic ships – the most recent, the Concordia, on the Island of Giglio -: among all those of the two ships called “Titanic” (usually we remember only one, but two ships with this name were touched by the same fate). The arrogance of the titanic, after the initial boldness, or precisely for this, sooner or later sinks and finds its Nemesis.

To replace the gigantic of the politics of big numbers (Macro): impersonal, collective, herd instinct, distant, frustrating, irritating, harbinger of depression and a sense of impotence, a policy that is administered by many finally trained (id est politically educated), periodically renewed in their offices, street by street, always in contact and communicative and operative exchange: this is the commitment that awaits us.

Naturally without renouncing that globality of the movements, of the business, of the world as we know it and perceive it, but positively compensating this perception of globality (gigantic) with an administration of small realities, attentive to small things.

These things, these remedies, these therapies and even before this attitude of taking care the world, with its wonders and its resources, are doing politics in the noblest and most elevated sense, which is an improvement, a response akin to the “soul making” that Hillman told us about.

Here, together with the first and most important solution, that of a “guaranteed work” by law (such as that of free health care and accessible in emergency for all, as also provided by our constitution and now acquired in our culture; “guaranteed work” must become too a universal, acquired right which, among other things, would fully and finally achieve Article 1 of the Italian Constitution), reside fundamental ingredients of involvement and participation capable of effectively counteracting those symptoms of “depersonalization”, “anesthetization”, “annihilation” caused by the nefarious politics, all inspired and aimed at Gigantism, the gigantic, the macro. We said of a “guaranteed job”, offered as a social deal (if you did not find a job, the State will provide one to you among the services that the administration needs) and paid naturally only in a basic (eg. € 500 for ten, twelve, hours of weekly work, a sort of universal civil service that for young people, among other things, should be mandatory). Having more will always be possible, in a direct and proportional relationship to one’s “professional individuation” and work and social skills.

This fact, together with the gradual disappearance of cash, to the creation of the figure of the “financial tutor” (among the Municipalities or Banks, quite another thing, much more meritorious, noble and more difficult than the operation of “private bankers” who manage the assets already in place) that helps entrepreneurs, professionals and individuals to recover, in a guaranteed way, from situations of financial difficulty, together with the abolition of rejection in the various grades of school in the age of obligation (replaced by the stay at school in the months of June and July for the recovery in the subjects in which the preparation is considered insufficient by the teachers) – the fundamental and irreplaceable psychological point remains that one of the 1970s must always go to class (except in exceptional cases, such as, for example, anticipating by a year the beginning of the elementary school cycle) with those of the ‘70s, with his peers, without suffering in childhood or adolescence the trauma of rejection!

The rejection trauma should be reserved for the higher grades of the training path, such as the University.

These concrete solutions, based on the analysis of the political pathologies that we have reported above, return to the Politics the capital “P”, the nobility of the healing dimension for the Soul and for the bodies, the Lucidity and Luminosity of the Divine which is realized here in this precious and sacred scenario that is our Earth.



[1] Institute for Psychoanalysis of Politics [it] www.confederati.org

[2] James Hillman, “Politica della bellezza”, ed. Moretti e Vitali, Bergamo.

[3] James Hillman, Michael Ventura, “We’ve Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy – And the World’s Getting Worse”, 1992.

[4] It is now widely demonstrated and not only in that ecopsychological key to which we refer in the text, that an economy dissociated from ecological knowledge – and after all the two words “eco-nomy” and “eco-logy”, lett. “The administration (nomìa, from the Greek Nomos = Administer) of the environment (eco)” and “eco-logy, “the study (logìa) of the environment (eco)”, do not coincidentally have the same root – is harmful and in the devastating medium and long term. Here we see as the highest Politics, far-sighted, not short-sighted or idiotic (the Greeks identified with a word that translated brings the English “idiot” precisely those who cannot see beyond the immediate), makes a positive difference in the care health and well-being (even economic in the long run) of populations, places, cities

[5] James Hillman, interview with Silvia Ronchey.

[6] James Hillman, Carlo Truppi, “L’anima dei luoghi”, ed. Rizzoli.

[7] On the idea of “European Confederation” instead of “European Union” cfr. Daniele Cardelli www.confederati.org

Universal Evil and Individual Good: From Chaos to Cosmos

Western consciousness is by no means the only kind of consciousness there is; it is historically conditioned and geographically limited, and representative of only one part of mankind. It is a mistake to think that we are the center. We start with that prejudice. But we are really devilish, awful things; we simply do not see ourselves from the outside. We think we are really wonderful people, highly respectable and moral, and so on, but in reality we are bloody pirates. What the European thinks of himself is a lie. We read the newspapers, we learn about the world of politics and economics, and we believe that this is something concrete, as if everything depended upon what we would do about currency exchange rates, the general economic situation, and so on. On this we are completely mad, as if dealing with these matters were the right thing to do. We take it for granted that this is the world where real things happen, that it is the only world, and that perhaps there is nothing beyond it. But there are innumerable people who think differently: we are few compared to those who have a completely different idea about the meaning of the world. For these people, we are simply ridiculous, because we live in a sort of illusion with respect to the world.[1]

When evil is exclusively attributed to others, even more so if these “others” are different and far away from us, circumscribed within an identifiable category, it is partly projected outside and partly relegated to the unconscious (in fact, it is during childhood that this psychic mechanism is activated: we were absolutely good; evil was, instead, located in some remote region, comfortably and well-separated from our known world).

A nation, a society, a single individual, or all of humanity is not instinctively inclined to attribute the responsibility for evil to themselves, not even in retrospect, and the borderline between good and evil does not separate the good and evil within us, but rather serves to separate us, who are good, from others, who are evil incarnate. It is easy at this point to demonize the other, from whom we separate ourselves to confirm our purity by putting up barriers or walls which we also ask for them to help us pay for.

Evil comes from the outside. In Egypt, Seth, god of destruction, chaos, storms, and violence, is brought by the desert wind; he is the divinity of the borderlands and foreigners, but at the same time he is also considered to be the god of the equilibrium between the positive and the negative. In Norse mythology, Loki is also a constitutionally ambiguous god: he symbolizes the Shadow and personifies evil; his deeds testify to a great cunning, as well as the ability to become a point of contact and exchange between gods and other mythical figures. Loki stands apart from the usual moral norms, and his transversality and eccentricity serve to maintain the cosmic balance, which is continually destabilized and then restored by his actions. He is the origin of evil, but paradoxically, his malignant side guarantees the existence of the good. Moreover, his ambiguity is underlined by his bisexuality and tendency to change form (his name appears to be derived from the word for flame, the symbol par excellence of state changes) as well as to perform clownish and clever actions, typical of the trickster. Still further, in Abraxas, the apotropaic and multiform divinity of probable Gnostic-Mithraic origin present in the Persian tradition, we find light and darkness, male and female, guilt and purity together. He is an invisible being, an archetype, who acts as a mediator between mankind and the Sun and, according to the Persian tradition, symbolizes the union and totality of Arimane, leader of the Daeva, demon-like creatures that incarnate Evil, Darkness, and Substance, and Ahura Mazda, in which Good, Light, and Spirit are lodged.

In opposition to the theories of good as summum bonum and evil as privatio boni, gradually advocated and disseminated in various forms by authors ranging from St. Augustine to Scotus Eriugena, and to the “lesser good” of Leibniz, Jung states that evil is a psychic reality consubstantial with the reality experienced by the psyche.

Here, then, is the ancient fear of foreign invasion, carried out by beings who are surely more advanced than our civilization, who usually attack us, or could attack us, with the intention of annihilating us, for two reasons: either because they have run out of something which is indispensable for their survival and which we are unlucky enough to possess, or because they are absolutely evil, and their goal is blind, in the sense that their evil nature “forces” them to crush the stupid inhabitants of the Earth who, deep down, are quite good, apart from a few hiccups along the way, but who, whenever they are proudly defending their own territory together, find solidarity, courage, heroism, and good feelings that would otherwise remain submerged.

Post-industrial society and hegemonic culture have, more or less unknowingly, ridiculed and banalized the idea of Evil. Evil has been sterilized, with the result that the Shadow has been expelled, but only apparently: the contemporary collective psyche has built a “ship of fools” in which to expel all our negative qualities, but when we later awaken from this illusion, we find it lurking outside the door to our homes or inside our very walls.

The process of globalization has been forcing mankind toward shared meanings and a universal validity of values which, though apparently leading to the “protection” of the dominant contemporary social system, is not always able to guarantee the expression of the individuality of the people, especially those who, due to historical or personal psychic and collective events, have no “central” or defined roles in the host society. The result is, often, a profound split between the social part of the individual (the Person) and its more intrinsic and internal components which, being more protected from external, worldly influences, are closer—psychologically and symbolically—to the oldest layers of humanity.

What we are facing globally is the realization and re-actualization of a form of archaic thought in which people who plan and carry out criminal acts have a very serious psychic immaturity and, perhaps even more serious, a very dangerous incapacity to think symbolically.

Thinking through symbols means understanding and welcoming within oneself the possibility of the indefinite, tolerating incompleteness, doubt, and paradox, all of which are elements making up the Self, in the knowledge that, beyond the most obvious meanings and explanations, beyond the absolute Light, there is a submerged world of contradictions, of the non-finite and of non-final explanations, that point to different and still other meanings.

We are witnessing the loss of those overflowings of meaning that were the mysterious heritage of every religion and which distinguished them from otherness. We are filling our psyche with concepts, techniques, certainties, and skills, but we are losing silence.

Contemporary society, having lost the sense of expectation and of the sacred, the transcendental, and the mysterious, has placed the sign and the symbol on the same level, producing a dangerous confusion of meaning. The sign corresponds to one and only meaning, and if by chance our unconscious, which is infused with semantic univocity, introduces a dissonant, strange or unknown element, alarm and panic are triggered in the rational psyche and defense systems are adopted, some of which are also unconscious.

What is happening in the world, with such naked and cruel acts of terrorism, shows a misunderstanding of the Shadow. “Civilization” has forced upon the individual a radical restriction of his/her freedom, in the sense that every personal idea of “justice” has to be subverted by a socially sanctioned justice, albeit not always shared, whether it is divine or secular. Over time, moral codes change, depending on changes in society as well as those in the collective and individual psyche. In Italy, for example, laws on abortion and divorce have changed the boundaries between good and evil, modifying the priorities of some values that are more or less accepted: today, the law affords protection to individual freedom with respect to family protection in the case of divorce[2] and, in the case of abortion, it protects the agency of women in relation to maternity.[3]

In the particular case of Islamic-inspired terrorism, a struggle is underway between the individual and the society in which the individual lives and was often born and raised; there is a dramatic fracture between a collective unconscious, by its nature impossible to identify but whose roots date from a time long before the present, temporally and culturally, and a personal unconscious made up of painful repressed memories, pregnant with privation, marginalization, uprooting, ignorance, and desires for revenge, which have not found a resolution in the individual’s psyche, remaining at the level of Shadow.

I truly believe that one of the causes triggering the devastating fury of recent, dramatic episodes of terrorism derives from the emergence of socially and individually pathological conditions such as depression and, above all, identity crisis and the anxiety of non-being. These have found their horrific “exit pathway” that we have learned to recognize because the majority of the individuals committing these acts of terror are from the first generation of immigrants who have their primary needs fully met: if their parents and grandparents had to reinvent their everyday social context, finding a job, accommodation, and a “logic” to having uprooted themselves from their places of origin with which, however, they maintained a deep psychic bond and which they were recognized as being from, today’s terrorists find themselves to be no longer the children of their family’s place of origin, but psychically not entirely, or only superficially, integrated into their new cultural environment either. These individuals possess a huge share of free psychic energy which they are unable to invest in pro-social activities, but rather anti-social, in a multilayered act of rebellion against the previous generations, desperate and despairing. It is as if the psychic energy of two or three generations before them has been compressed, with only a narrow passageway to escape, rendering their expression violent. When individuals lose, or perhaps have never found, the ability to relate, even symbolically, to impersonal social institutions, there is a serious risk that the public part of the individual’s life may collapse, with a consequent withdrawal into radicalization. Every experience, every aspect of life that affects an individual who has embarked on the path of radicalization, is perceived as a profanation of truth and faith. The individual becomes hard, closed to the world and the society in which he or she lives. James Hillman would say that it is as if there were excess salt, which pushes the person to a paroxysmal closure and a virginal self-perception. The risk that society runs is what Hillman called the fervor of salt, which can lead to fanaticism, puritanism, and terrorism: a lack of salt leads to the slackening of social and individual principles, whereas excess salt can facilitate entry into a climate of terror.[4]

Blind adherence to a collective “ideal” crushes any individual desire, transforming identity into an undifferentiated set of characteristics: it is the opposite path to individualization. This sort of “collectivization” protects individuals from the discomfort of being face-to-face with their own ghosts, with their own selves, enabling them to hide not only from the eyes of the “enemy”, but also from their own eyes. The massacre of random unarmed and unsuspecting citizens accentuates the indifferentiation of the victims as well as the executioner: group ferocity causes the sinking into the Shadow of any sense of guilt which, for the individual, can evoke feelings of human pity, but for the group, the horde, it hides in the non-distinction, precluding any sensitivity. This explains the extreme coldness and cynicism with which terrorists perpetrate blind and ferocious acts of violence or cold executions of “infidels”: this is the anesthesia of terror.

The violence of terrorist attacks is the dramatic concretization of a symbolism missing in Western society, in whose collective psyche a monster has been growing which is invisible to those who do not want or do not know how to see it. This monster is now attacking the host body from within. The Shadow has exploded and is corroding an increasingly sick body: the body’s reaction is similar to that of a feverish sick person who, rather than understanding whether the fever originates from a cold or an infection, wards off the cold with a triple layer of sweaters: it will not die from the cold, but rather from sepsis.

The search for immortality does not regard the individual, but the whole group; that is why the communication strategies of IS try to involve the masses. The individual regresses psychologically for the benefit of the group’s psyche, which is governed by “leaders” who exalt the submissive and indifferentiated members of the group itself. The existence and the sacrifice of the individual guarantees the survival of the group. That is why I argue that there is a terrorist disease, rather than a terrorist, since “madness” is to be sought in the psyche of the group rather than the individual. If you read the results of the Rorschach tests that were given to Nazi officials during the Nuremberg trials, psychiatrists were long reticent to reveal their findings; only one, after many years, though not addressing individual responses, stated that it was considered inappropriate to publish the results precisely because the respondents’ replies were considered “normal” on average. This made him reflect on the possibility that anyone, potentially, finding him/herself in a certain place at a certain historical, economic, social, etc. moment, could have “revealed” his or her Shadow and been overwhelmed by it.[5]

Renouncing social life in favor of remaining hidden means renouncing any relationship outside of the group; psychologically, it is to renounce the acceptance and decoding of the complexity of real life, made up of contradictions, limitations, and “unsaturated thought”. The choice of radicalization frees up the individual, in the sense that it allows him or her to entrust every choice and every interpretation to the leader. Thought is “saturated” because, in a closed group, there is no exchange with the outside, no space for any psychic movement. In the long run, however, it will be the “impermeability” of the group that leads to its implosion and death.

The uniformity of clothing, combined with camouflaging facial features, helps to homogenize the mass whose very reason for existing is its indifferentiation. The fear of psychic anonymity which the individual feels constrained by is contained and sublimated by an anonymity of “return”: if the host society ignores or, worse, despises me, then my voluntary withdrawal from the eyes of the world will guarantee my psychic survival. Adhering to an extremist organization unconsciously guarantees the security of the individual who, by being “at the edge” of society, finds his own eccentric individuality.

The psyche, in order to function in an adaptive and rewarding manner for itself and the society in which it lives, needs motion, since any inert state is synonymous with psychic and physical death. In alchemical terms, it is as though the terrorist, or the fundamentalist, remains attached to the state of nigredo, which is a condition of disorientation, depression, dissolution, and darkness, but which allows the individual to consciously, though with pain and difficulty, redirect their existence toward the Light. In some psychic states, it is as if there is a stasis of the propulsive thrust of the psyche, which can no longer project itself towards an external psychic object: it is a closing off of the real, external world, moving towards an autistic and paranoid condition. Certain extreme and radical doctrines convince individuals that the only possibility of giving “meaning” to their existence is through a dramatic break with the real world in order to move towards an ideal world.

The terrible events we are witnessing reveal a short circuit between the Person, the personal unconscious, and the collective unconscious of so-called “terrorists”, with the addition of a very serious relapse of the archetype of the Shadow, which risks becoming an alien psychic object, entrenched in our psyche and whose extreme danger consists in its non-recognition: all the negative, the unacceptable, the demonic—natural components of the ambivalent human condition—are placed in our Shadow, which is neither positive nor negative, but becomes harmful if ignored, misunderstood, or projected onto the psychic object.

The Person is a compromise between the individual and the collective. It consists of pieces of the collective with which the I identifies and which have the function of facilitating adaptation to the surrounding social world. Humans have a peculiarity that is very useful for adapting to the collective, but which is potentially dangerous and misleading for the purpose of identification: imitation. This is essential for the recruitment of young people to be turned into soldiers and terrorists: imitating one’s hero can push one to emulate that hero’s death in action.

When individuals lose the ability to relate to impersonal social structures that, in turn, have lost the ability to convey and “narrate” shared beauty and harmony, the result is a collapse of the public sphere of life.

The arrival of massive migratory flows has re-activated the ancient fear of contamination coming from the outside. “Western” society unconsciously fears contagion, with its burden of suffering, corruption, and death. Terrorist acts perpetrated “at home” are nothing less than the materialization of such fears. In the past, foreign invaders entered the city by breaking down the perimeter walls; today the “new barbarians” are often born in our own cities, are our own brothers with whom we share the same places, the same horizons. If previously the enemy of our civilization was alien, today the “alien” is our unconscious part that fails to find dialogue with the community to which the individual belongs: it is a psychic oxymoron, an alien-citizen.

In this kind of situation, the concept of adherence to a peer group grows unchecked, to the detriment of individuality: I am not, I belong. We should not, however, necessarily imagine that these fundamentalist organizations operate according to the Western mentality; a sense of belonging does not require rigid hierarchies, physical proximity, or pyramid structures (René Guénon said that Westerners, in their mental habits, are too inclined to find “systems”, even where they cannot be).[6] It is just as wrong, and perhaps even more dangerous, to give credence to the idea of the existence of so-called “lone wolves”; it is highly unlikely that a “lone wolf” will plan terrorist action “in the name of …”. Those who choose to kill blindly, taking into account the end of their own lives as well, must have previously gone through a period of ideological brainwashing and emotional subtraction from the social world in which they had lived and with which they had interacted up to the point of their extreme decision. I speak of an extreme decision because in the word “decision” there is the idea of the cut (from the Latin de-caedĕre, to cut off), which an individual cannot reach alone. Terrorists receive fundamentalist education that makes them immune and impermeable to any emotional influence external to themselves and the organization or religious movement they have joined and feel they belong to.

Recent events, however, have revealed a pathogenic aspect of our nihilistic society: its inability to give meaning to people’s existence, neither to their lives nor to their deaths. The most fundamentalist wing of the Islamic world has thus become entrenched in this painfully exposed nerve of Western culture that, often, can no longer adequately respond to questions about the meaning of life, allowing the emergence of a psychological context of the idolatry of power and money, full of declared and supposed “freedoms,” which in truth is scarcely human. Radicalism has occupied the emotional spaces left empty by a profound crisis in and fragmentation of shared values, to which fundamentalism is opposed in its rigid Manichean thought.

What does the so-called “Western” system of thought propose (or oppose) to these extreme forms of fanaticism and “non-thought”? An external faith anchored solely to an external form in which the religious function is no longer a “matter of the soul”. A religious phenomenon, being truly religious to its core, must be an experiential psychological fact, a “mysterium,” and in the word mysterium there is the “mu” particle, that is, silence as a mystical place of shared contemplation, or the absolute nothing of Zen. For the divine image as archetype to find its sacred silence, which is not an absolute or desperate silence, it must walk the path from the depths of the collective unconscious to consciousness.

Self-sacrifice in the suicidal terrorist act corresponds to the renunciation of one’s relationship with anyone else; in the case of the fundamentalist, he or she has already withdrawn any form of projection, abdicating any form of relationship during the preparation and the psychic and physical waiting for the approaching time of action.

For Jacques Lacan, man risks falling into the abyss of perversion when he disregards and denigrates the Law of the Word, giving precedence to a Law that transcends humanity and every established limit. This happens when a person rises up as an avenger who, transcending his or her individual life, kills in the name of a Value, a Cause. Whoever rises up as an avenger assumes the role of “crusader” in the pursuit of the affirmation, at any cost, of God’s perfect Law which, perversely, “mortifies” the imperfect law of humans, at the cost of the physical annihilation of the infidel.[7]

Symbolic thinking exceeds the standard capacity of the senses since it is in the symbol that we find the future. In the terrorist there is the loss of symbolic function and the ability to produce one’s own “living” images. Images no longer represent something, they no longer have any connection with underlying unconscious factors; they have become empty simulacra without meaning and thus without soul.

Here the dyad chaos-cosmos turns out to be an inseparable binomial because it is in their polarity that life, with its moderate and extreme aspects of good and evil, finds its reason for being, and it is not possible, not “Natural” to conceive of existence as made up only of good or only of evil, with the evil segregated into a hermetically sealed hell. The myth of Pandora’s box tells us how impossible, even unnatural, it is to try to confine all the evils of the world in a single space; sooner or later, the thirst for knowledge, sometimes dressed in the guise of curiosity, must liberate the evils of the world; besides jealousy, vice, and madness, they include old age and disease, which remind us of the passage of time. Only hope, remaining at the bottom of the box, can save us from the dejection of lost immortality; we have to thank Pandora and the female gender, to which, by extension, is attributed curiosity, if time has found its natural course: from the unnatural and immobile Chaos of Uranus, tenaciously attached to the mother-wife Gaia, who does not literally breathe (for our cultural canons, bound as we are to the “breath of life”, to the “mother’s breath”, it is a non-living life), and who refuses to give “light” to his offspring, presaging their end, we pass to the “death” of an eternal—and therefore not real—love and to the birth of Time, a time of births and deaths, of hopes and disappointments, of lights and shadows.

Western civilization has preferred to rely on a dichotomous morality in which the good-evil division reassures us of the “extraneousness” of evil, to be projected through its Shadow onto the alien, excluding it from its own God. The Book of Job is exemplary in this regard: the “permission” that God gives Satan to bring evil to poor Job reveals all his symbolic ambivalence: for, the omnipotence of God, so far away in his inscrutability and thus beyond good and evil, turns out to be fallacious like, and more than, his creation, though remarkably powerful (proving that, in the end, it will be the same God who “grants” a sort of “reparations” to Job). Job chooses the path of acceptance, revealing in his “humanity” all of his greatness.[8]

In conclusion, one of the evils and risks of contemporary Western humanity is what we might call “the shelter of reason.” We seek protection in a supreme order, whether religious or secular, in the blind hope that an external entity can guarantee us a sterile existence, devoid of accidents and misfortunes, but also, I would add, devoid of fantasy, depth, mystery, imagination, surprises, ideas, and visions, in a kind of perennial Truman Show. I believe that Jung referred to this when he pointed out that it is precisely in the vortex of chaos that eternal miracles dwell, and that it is the disquieting chaos itself that reveals a deep meaning, since man not only dwells in an orderly world but also in the magical world of his soul.[9]

[1] Carl Gustav Jung, Collected Works, Alchemical Studies, vol.13, p.55, U.S.A.

[2] From Law n. 898 of 1970 to Law n. 55 of 2015.

[3] Law n. 194 of 22 May 1978.

[4] James Hillman, Alchemical Psychology, Spring Publications, 2015, U.S.A.

[5] G. Pietropolli Charmet, A. Piotti, Uccidersi. Il tentativo di suicidio in adolescenza, 2009, Italy.

[6]René Guénon, Man and His Becoming According to the Vedānta, 1945, United Kingdom.

[7] See Philippe Julien, Jacques Lacan’s Return to Freud: The Real, The Symbolic, and the Imaginary (Psychoanalytic Crosscurrents), 1995, USA.

[8] See C. G. Jung, Answer to Job, 1984, United Kingdom.

[9] See C. G. Jung, Collected Works: The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche: vol.8, 1970, United Kingdom.