This is part of the Neoliberal Conspiracy series:
- The Neoliberal Conspiracy 01: Introduction
- The Neoliberal Conspiracy 02: Education
- Neoliberal Conspiracy 03: (dis)Information
- Neoliberal Conspiracy 04: Neoliberal ‘individualism’ as opposed to ‘individuation’
There are a few other recent and relevant articles:
There are plenty of other shorter articles on this blog about neoliberalism. Such as:
- Introduction to Neoliberalism, Plutocracy and Liberty Posts
- Neoliberalism, the State and economic crashes
- A Jeremiad: Neoliberalism and Climate Change
- A Second Jeremiad on Neoliberalism and Climate Change
The point of this particular series is to argue that the English speaking world is subject to an attempted ‘team up’, organised activity, or conspiracy to maintain the power of the already wealthy and powerful. This conspiracy seems quite capable of preferring the deaths of millions to the loss of established corporate profit. It primarily works through deliberately corrupting information flows, buying politicians and political parties, and by identifying scapegoats, and pursing a ‘shadow politics.’ This movement has the potential to lead towards a fascism, or authoritarianism, that is meant to protect the current social hierarchies of power and wealth, during the planetary ecological crisis.
The wealthy and powerful are here considered to be largely located within the upper echelons of the corporate or shareholding sector. We might call these people the neoliberal plutocracy – while recognising the possible over-simplification in that label.
For example, we can recognise, that people in the upper echelons of the corporate sector do not have to be united in everything.
Firstly, for example, they may not be totally united in support of Donald Trump, even though he appears to aims in common with many of them, such as tax cuts for the already wealthy, demolition of the vaguely helpful participatory State, militarisation of the police, intensification of culture wars, destruction of representative democracy, attacking or misdirecting anti-capitalist, anti-establishment protestors and helping to remove any restraints on the corporate destruction of ecologies.
Secondly, some of this corporate wealth elite may have remnants of a sense of obligation to ordinary people, or feel that wealth should be used charitably, while others may think this is a betrayal of the status quo. There can be all kinds of complexities that may need to be recognised as people are complicated and rarely harmonious as a class. These differences are where cross class support might happen, and a potential for some kind of helpful action might take root.
The purpose of this post is to investigate the propaganda use of what I will call ‘Shadow Politics’. This is not only shady politics, but deliberately stirs up what Carl Jung called “The Shadow”; that is the projection of our own disliked ‘evil’ onto others and then using them as scapegoats for the failure of one’s own politics and social actions.
Shadow politics is rooted in a real cause – the fact that neoliberalism disempowers, isolates, and takes hope away from large sections of the population through its support of corporately controlled “free markets”, reduction of virtue to both wealth and support of neoliberalism, privatisation of previously public goods and services, shoveling wealth to a limited group of people, destruction of general social mobility (other than downwards), and pretending that conservatism is equivalent to destruction. Most people can probably sense that their lives are being stripped away, and they know, even if only subliminally, that the world around them is being destroyed, as is their personal identity and sense of purpose. People are rightly resentful.
In the previous post in this series, on neoliberal individualism, I argued that our self-identity emerges within our interaction with others and with the world. It necessarily is situated within collective traditions, interactions and politics. Our identity is a process, which involves participation in collective systems and of building ourselves from those collective systems.
This individuation process is particularly difficult when there is a collective individualism which suggests that we are already individualised, and just have to do more of the same, or lessen our responsibilities further.
We may even be highly resistant to the idea that our individuality is social in the first place, and think we can proceed by strengthening our both socialised ego and the collective idea of individualism without tackling what we, as a collective, are unconscious of, or refrain from being conscious of. This kind of individualism helps reinforce a collective “shadow process” which lumps other other people together in (usually despised) categories, and overrides the possibility of collaboration between people on different sides, or with different views, and which distracts us from the way we are being manipulated against our better interests.
The shadow is what we deny in ourselves, or attempt to discipline in ourselves, but can see in an exaggerated form in others, especially in others that we have defined as outsiders or as ‘bad’. As Jung says:
The shadow personifies everything that the subject refuses to acknowledge about himself [or herself], and yet is always thrusting itself upon him directly or indirectlyJung CW9-1: #513
those qualities and impulses [a person] denies in himself but can plainly see in others—such things as egotism, mental laziness, and sloppiness; unreal fantasies, schemes, and plots; carelessness and cowardice; inordinate love of money and possessions…Marie Louise Von Franz – Meeting the Shadow in Dreams in Man and his Symbols
This set of identifications with particular others usually depends upon social ideologies, conditioning, and information availability and acceptance. It stems from denial, or lack of acceptance, of the complex nature of the world, and is the consequence of multiple repressions, which can include repressions of that part of the psyche that we call ‘the body’. Shadow can involve suppression of what our more individuated self might see as good or useful, not just things which are socially defined as bad.
As Jung says:
The shadow [can be] merely somewhat inferior, primitive, unadapted, and awkward; not wholly bad. It even contains childish or primitive qualities which would in a way vitalize and embellish human existence, but – convention forbids!Jung CW 11: #134
Jung’s point is that the shadow content is within us, it is cast by us (or ‘projected‘) onto others, in a mistaken attempt to make ourselves feel whole, moral, or pleasing to a God.
As it is an attempt to distract ourselves from perceiving or dealing with our own failings, where and when they occur, it is necessarily a process which makes ‘darkness’ and obscurity.
The consequences of the shadow can be socially magnified. If, for example, society worships a dangerous God, who condemns people to hell for eternity, then being truly viscous towards those socially defined as evil, becomes a way of fiercely indicating to God, and the rest of society, that we are on God’s side. Obviously, the greater the penalties for deviance, then the greater the temptation to attack others first to indicate you are one of the righteous.
We most clearly see our own shadow active in our interpretation of the behaviour of others. Shadow processes lead us to denounce criminality and weakness in others but accept it, hide it, or ignore it, in ourselves. Again, recognising this projected ‘deviance’ and engaging with it, might be where our true individuation can begin.
Individuation often involves a moral struggle – often because in our current socialised state of understanding we are caught in an apparently unsolvable moral dilemma which we refuse to acknowledge, or suppress by declaring one side of the dilemma a full solution.
For example, with Covid, we can decide that getting the economy going is worth any number of deaths, or that the deaths will be solved by an as yet unavailable piece of technology (such as a vaccine), or we can decide to wall people up – allowing them no social contact or possibly no income, and let them face death from other causes. To support our one-sided decision, we then project all our shadow evil onto those who make the other choice.
The important thing is that as well as giving us a sense of righteousness, the shadow projection can shut down further exploration of possible paths, and intensify our problems.
Shadow as process and social process
To be clearer, the shadow is not a ‘thing’ but a ‘process’. It often involves socially organised activity and culture which leads us to seek out the evil in others (usually a socially defined out-group), or seek out information about the evil in these others, and blame them for personal and social wrongs or mishaps, while making ourselves (and our ‘identity group’ or ingroup) innocent or largely innocent – and fighting evil which is located elsewhere. There is, by this process, nothing we need to change in ourselves or our group.
In shadow politics, it is always other people, other groups and othered ‘things’, and not ourselves, who are to blame, and they must be named and blamed publicly, and perhaps expelled or even killed. This process is what we call ‘scapegoating’. The most likely areas of blame depend on the information, or propaganda, you are most likely to chose to receive favourably – which is almost certainly influenced by what kind of social category you give to yourself or, perhaps, have been given by others.
Another way of putting this, is that some, if not most, parts of the shadow process are socially defined, enabled and encouraged. They arise because we attempt to fit in with our social expectations and social categories, by showing we are different from socially hated others. This blame and refusal to alter our behaviour, or consider what we are doing, helps keep the established system going (even if it is destructive), and appears to make it easier for us to survive. For example we don’t have to deal with the problems generated by the system which produces the ruling wealth elites, and their behaviours, we can just blame Bill Gates or Donald Trump.
These social expectations can come from dead authors as much as from live others.
As a brief example, in a shadow process, if we feel sexual attraction or affection to others of our own gender, and we (and our wider society) classify this as bad or weak, we might say to ourselves, that we feel those desires because of the machinations of gay people; the media which puts the idea before us; or because of some devil – not because those desires could be a humanly normal part of us. This blaming others is a way of denying the socially defined ‘evil’ in us, so that we can fit in with our group, by ‘projecting’ it on to another person or social category, usually one we condemn anyway. We may then begin to persecute those others, or guard against imaginary devils, rather than the real ones of our own (perhaps manipulated) prejudices and hatreds. The denial may also make the forbidden feelings more intense and insistent, making denial and the shadow process, even more rigid, violent or eventually hypocritical.
Ruling groups can use this process to distract the people from their failings as a ruling group. If you are encouraged, for example, to blame ‘the Jews’ then you are less likely to blame the Christian lords or the Christian capitalists, or the Christian Church for what is going wrong, and you are showing how Christian and non-Jewish you are.
It may not just be other people that we make evil. If we consider that human perfection consists of being constantly ‘rational’ or ‘spiritual’ and society has defined these virtues in opposition to, or separate from, ‘the body’ or ‘the world’ then, ‘materiality,’ our own physical forms, or even nature itself, may become subject to shadow processes and seem evil or repugnant. The body or the world may be held responsible for dragging down our over-zealous aspirations, and need to be treated harshly or suppressed.
This latter kind of shadow projection and hostility to the body and world has the potential to undermine our ability to live in this world, and we may even not care whether we destroy it or not. We certainly will not listen to it, or individuate with it.
In the shadow process, we break both the interactive connection between ourselves and the shadowy others, and obscure our role in participating in, possessing, or benefitting from, the ‘evil’ we denounce. We propose that we, and our group, are pure, and our discomfort comes from badness of others. We can then ignore our own faults by comparison with those evil others. For example we may claim that black people are more racist than white, or protesting women are more sexist than men. We can denounce the violence of rioters without seeing the violent activities of police or the actions of people ‘on our side.’ We are then free to engage in even more victimisation of those we blame for the problem, and make the situation worse.
There can also be an opposite movement which may be part of shadow process as it helps reinforce the legitimacy of our projections, in that we may also think that people we identify with, and see as good, are enthusiastically opposed to those things we see as evil, when there is no evidence that those supposedly ‘good people’ are even interested, and some evidence may even suggest they are more likely to be causing evil. As an example, we can see Trump supporters passionately believing that the President is opposed to the horrors of child rape, when there is no evidence from his twitter feed or rallies, that the President worries about it at all, and he was friends with a notorious rapist of young teens, and never bothered to denounce or help prevent that from happening, even after they broke up.
Another way of putting this process, is that we are aware of things going wrong, of the situation being bad, and of our inability to do much about it. We may not know what to do, because all of our social theories and allies do not have a real solution either. We are plagued with unease, discomfort and, probably, fear at the situation we are in. Certain groups of people become, or are made to be, ‘symbolic’ of this unease and discomfort and we project all our moral discomfort fear and unease on this group. They become symbolic of a problem which we cannot solve within our worldview and current collective psychology. But by making them the cause of all the problems, we can feel better about ourselves and the people we identify with , and feel that by attacking them we are solving the problems we face. We do not really need to change ourselves or examine our views of the world, or investigate the behaviour of the groups we like.
We can continue life as normal by attacking or getting rid of the groups that we have collectively made to symbolise the problem.
Shadow and Scapegoating
Collective shadow processes are often connected to what we can call collective ‘scapegoating processes’, as should become clear.
In the scapegoating process, all evils are placed upon, or seen as active in, a generally relatively weak creature, person, or group of people. As a result, this ‘entity’ becomes seen as the bearer and cause of most of the evils we face. By expelling, or killing this being, we expel the evil from both ourselves and society, and build unity, and hope for the future, between all those who participate in driving the expulsion or murder.
In the Bible it is said:
Then Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins, putting them on the head of the goat, and sending it away into the wilderness by means of someone designated for the task. The goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities to a barren region; and the goat shall be set free in the wilderness.Leviticus 16: 21-2.
It appears from the Mishna, that the scapegoat was to be pushed over a cliff to die: “he did not reach halfway of the mountain before he became separated limb from limb“.
In medieval times people identified as Jews, heretics or witches were made easy scapegoats for social and ecological failures. Disease occurred because of such people. Cows died because of these people. Children became deformed, sick or disappeared because of these people. The travails of the community were laid on their heads, but not consciously as in the ritual. The scapegoaging process involves the idea that life would move smoothly without certain evil people, and all that need be done is blame them and ‘remove’ them.
It is usual for relatively powerless people to be the one’s that the shadow is projected on to and who are blamed for disruption, as they are easier to expel or kill, and they have little political importance or influence. If a starving person steals food, it is they who are bad, not the system which deprives them of food, or allows others (such as myself) to eat too much for their own health or virtue. Attacks by force of law, justifies the attack by the presence of attack: “if we attacked them, they must deserve it.”
Working together to denounce, locate and purge the scapegoat builds group loyalties and satisfactions, so it appears to make people feel good and feel they have solved the problem. They can relax for a moment.
If you are interested in this theory of scapegoating, I suggest reading books by Rene Girard and his followers.
Shadow politics are denunciatory. A major clue to the probability that shadow politics are involved is the presence of denunciation without constructive policies. It is assumed that just following ‘our way,’ or ‘our leader’, and removing opposition, will solve all problems.
In shadow politics the main aim is not even self-interest, it is tearing down others that you are directed to hate, or feel normal to hate. This does us no real good, but it gets us a great deal of unity, and pleasure in the discomfiture of the others. That the hated-others can appear to suffer is enough. Eventually this can become self-destructive – if, for example, you decide garbage disposers are to be punished for being dirty, you may end up knee deep in garbage.
While it is perhaps dangerous to accuse others of shadow politics (as this could easily become shadow politics itself), it is probable people are engaged in Shadow politics if they blame others, and make victims of people (especially less powerful people), in order to explain away these unintended consequences.
Let us look at some examples. People of a more leftish political persuasion may be very upset by people like Donald Trump. He becomes a symbol for everything that is wrong with the system. This makes Trump way too important, and may even feed his ego (I don’t know of course).
However, it is likely that there is some shadow projection going on. Very few people who are concerned with climate change, probably feel they are doing enough to combat it. They are still working within the system, they possibly engage in consumerism, buy goods from overseas, drive cars, have jobs with companies or governments which are not doing much to reduce their ecological impact, or may even have to make destructive ecological impact themselves. They may also be unhelpful to the working class, increase pollution, be rude to opponents, suppress their awareness of counter-information, refuse to listen to opponents and so on. All things it is easy to see in Trump.
No matter how much they wish to act, the system they are attempting to live in requires them to be destructive, or interdependent with destruction, to survive. Trump, by his apparent indifference, cultivated ignorance, and encouragement of violence, provides a good symbolic focus for this discomfort and encourages shadow projection rather than a productive engagement with consciousness, moral dilemmas, the destructiveness of the social system as a whole, and so on. Without Trump things might be much better, although most people would know that things would still be bad, even if not quite as bad. Trump provides a symbolic resolution for recognition of the problems, but not a practical or constructive one. The reality is that Trump is not responsible for everything that is going wrong. He cannot work alone. That does not mean he should not be removed from office, but that alone will not be enough – there is more work to be done.
I recently read an article on Facebook, which I can no longer find (so please excuse the lack of acknowledgement) which alleged that Trump supporters did not care what Trump actually did, all they wanted was to upset and attack “liberals.” Seeing liberals upset, the idea of “liberal tears,” and plotting vengeance was enough for them. Now there may be some truth here – I would suspect most people on the left have encountered something like this on the Internet. However, I would doubt it was true of all Republicans or even all people who might support or vote for Trump. It creates a shadow projection by saying that a whole class of people are all the same as the supposed ‘worst’ of them. It therefore participates in the shadow dynamics by creating an enemy and effectively refusing to engage with them, other than hostilely – such people are apparently not worth engaging with, or even living with. This kind of reaction then justifies the Trump supporters’ hostility to “liberals”. These liberals really are stuck up jerks, who are out to get us, and deserve our mutual hostility.
If the statement was true in many (but not all) cases, then it would be more useful to ask “how did this arise?” This might lead away from the shadow politics. As a hypothesis, it would seem likely that people in many parts of the US and the English speaking ‘West’, do feel abandoned by the establishment, and have been abandoned by the establishment. They see themselves as ignored. They see themselves as subject to contempt. They see that their work is insecure, that their children are going to have even less chance of improvement than they do. They feel they have failed, and society has failed. Their hard work has not delivered as it is supposed to have done. They are marginalised in their own country, and in politics in general.
They likely feel this, irrespective of whether they can be categorised as working class or middle class. If these people can be categorised as middle class, they no doubt feel the threat that they could easily face poverty again, and lose all they have achieved. They have nothing to rely on other than their own strength and hard work. They have little social vocabulary to analyse their own problems other than what is provided by people like those on Fox. They blame the establishment, but not the neoliberal Republican establishment, which seems to share some of their views about hard work and independence. So they blame the “liberal establishment”; the not-always Republican media, those liberals who would apparently support and give money to people other than them – why are they missing out? Why are they the people who apparently have to pay for tackling climate change by losing the only good jobs that there are? Liberals often appear to take money from the government for doing nothing that has any resonance with them, why the hell should they listen to those people?
It should be noted that nearly all of these factors are the case for most people in the US, whatever politics they agree with.
These are real and common problems which do need to be faced, but shadow politics makes sure they are not faced, or the facing can be ignored, or displaced into hatred of a particular group (‘liberals’ or ‘Trumpites’). The resulting discontent, and possibly neurosis, serves to maintain the established system which causes the problem. It is less painful to denounce already disliked outsiders than to face up to the real problems, or the problems on one’s own side.
In neoliberalism, the praise of individualism is joined with a denunciation of not only those who are ‘weak’ or ‘unfortunate’, but of those who recognise interdependence and a sense of responsibility towards others. However, we are all necessarily interdependent and part of the system that may depend on, and repress others. This is the guilt, the moral dilemma, that we are largely avoiding socially through shadow politics.
Neoliberalism encourages us to denounce, outgroups (such as the poor, the sick, the unfortunate, especially those of the wrong religion or race), as evil, dependent or criminal, whatever they do – unless, perhaps, they manage to become wealthy and neoliberal. The parasitism of the poor is condemned, the parasitism of the wealthy is ignored as it seems entirely natural. Neoliberal dependence on the government for subsidy, support, implementation of their policies, or protection is normal, any support directed at shadowy others is evil.
But “They are harmful”, you may assert, “I do not do X or desire to do X.” Or as Jung puts it “the cause of [your] emotion appears to lie, beyond all possibility of doubt, in the other person” (CW 9, 2: # 16).
The people that you accuse may also not do X or desire to do X, even if you find socially acceptable evidence that they do, or your projection tells you they do. Evidence can be faked, and in this world often is. We can easily accept evidence that confirms our projections. The despised others could possibly be harmful, but so may you or those you agree with. The fact that we live in a maladaptive system, this is the case. It also implies that we are likely to be harmful to ourselves in some ways as well as being likely to participate in harm to others, directly or indirectly.
The supposedly evil ones, may not be evil. They may simply misunderstand the nature of the world, be mistaken, be being deceived by psycho-socially knowledgably people, and their policies may make matters worse.
It is as likely, given we live in complex systems, that the other side and ourselves are simply behaving in ways which make sense for them, are well-intended but mistaken, have ways of obscuring or dismissing information which disturbs them and are being mislead by their shadows, than that they are evil as such. In a way this is a far more disturbing view as it suggests that, without extreme care, the same kinds of problem is likely to affect everyone.
Shadow politics and information
In shadow politics, information is about loyalty and denunciation, not about evidence or accuracy. If information denounces the right people then it is taken as likely to be correct.
Knowledge is rarely a lone event gained through your own independent research. It involves sources who you trust and sources you do not trust as much. It also can involve giving comfort to both your ego and shadow. Yes, your research demonstrates that people like yourself (your ingroup) are good and virtuous, and the shadowy others (your outgroups) are really evil and even perhaps worse than you thought.
Without much difficulty, given the huge mass of information available, somewhere you will be able to find knowledge to support your shadow, because you already think that is the case, or because you identify with or have sympathies with those who are telling you. The suppression of awareness of the shadow, can also make these projections compulsive. Those we put the shadow upon, may also be unconscious, and be reacting against your accusations, and so the accusations just both sides together in a self-reinforcing shadow and scapegoating process, and make relationships and change harder.
One further aspect of this is the common allegation that those people who disagree with us are ‘sheeple’ who blindly follow mainstream programming. This form of shadow abuse, allows us to believe anything. The less acceptance an idea has, the more absurd it is, the more we can see ourselves as individual, independent thinkers, and the more that those who disagree with us are sheeple and the less we need to even think about the objections they may put forward. The idea can help shut down discourse, and make our thought even more “black and white”. We don’t have to think about whether we are being deliberately mislead, selecting the information we accept to make ourselves virtuous, or going along with our own social programming.
Overcoming shadow politics
Recognising this process makes normal politics difficult. How much of what we see as bad, or troubling, in the world reflects something within ourselves that we are projecting on to others, and trying to avoid in ourselves? How do we argue about the uncomfortable or bad things in a group in which we participate, without blaming others for our own guilt? This realisation is not easy, but we need to bear it in mind for any politics aiming to be real, and if we wish to do more than purge society of those shadow people who we have chosen to blame.
This is particularly difficult, if we ourselves feel challenged by others. “We know we are virtuous and do our best – how dare they? They must be full of rage themselves, to make these acusations. It is their fault there is a problem, not mine. I have never hurt a member of their group, how can they challenge me, or say I benefit from their pain?”
To carry out a constructive politics, it seems necessary to integrate one’s own shadow, rather than pursue the individualistic and collective assertion that the evil is elsewhere in a collectively approved target. This involves recognising that “we have met the enemy and he is us”…
Then we might need to observe and deal with the social shadow of the group’s we identify with (and if we don’t think we identify with some groups against others, then we probably need to look at ourselves and our behaviour more closely).
Without this moral effort, then there is no political morality at all – there is just a process of finding suitable enemies to blame and scapegoat.
For many, recognising their shadow process in their politics may be denied, because disorientation, chaos, inaction, and moral uncertainty seem inevitable results of such an action, not to mention the potential pain of recognising that the darkness one sees in others is one’s own, or getting a sense that one’s own identity and allegiances are ‘fake’, or a way of avoiding the pain of dealing with real problems.
The shadow is a moral problem that challenges the whole ego-personality, for no one can become conscious of the shadow without considerable moral effort. To become conscious of it involves recognizing the dark aspects of the personality as present and real. This act is the essential condition for any kind of self-knowledge, and it therefore, as a rule, meets with considerable resistance.Jung CW 9-2: #14
What this suggests is that, for society to be functional, we should somehow try and normalise integration of the shadow together with an engagement with individuation as opposed to accepting neoliberal individualism.
We need to somehow get ourselves first, and others later, to recognise that the main dangers do not always lie with people we already don’t like or suspect. We need to recognise systemic interdependence, the ways we distort information to back our existing cultural biases, and we need to institutionalise recognition that, in complex systems, our understanding of any specific event is likely to be a simplification at best, and probably wrong.
If we have policies, we should try them out, but not be afraid to ‘backflip’ if subsequent events show that these policies do not work, or are likely to be generating unintended and unexpected harmful consequences, that maybe almost the exact opposite to what we claimed would happen.
If we are primarily dedicated to being thought correct, righteous, or individually smart, then this stops correction of mistakes, and helps us to blame consequences on those shadowy, dark or stupid others.
The more we want to be right, the more we want to be moral, the more we want to be ‘individual’, or the more we are threatened by expulsion from our group if we are seen as bad, then the more easily we may be deceived by our shadow, and produce destruction or participate in social shadow events.
The next post considers ‘positive thinking’ as a generator of mistakes and shadow politics.