Many years ago I recall seeing a video advertisement for Google. A grandfather is driving his grandson in a car. The grandson asks a question about Chinese history and the grandfather, not knowing the answer, makes up some elaborate and ridiculous story. There was a better way, said the advertisement. You just had to give the kid access to Google and he could find the answer himself.
I’ve been thinking about that ad recently in light of the themes explored in this series of posts. The young boy is The Orphan looking to his grandfather for guidance. But he can’t rely on his grandfather to give accurate information about the world. He can, of course, rely on a multinational corporation. They’re never wrong and only have his best interests at heart. The ad is designed to strike fear into the hearts of parents who will no doubt be terrified that their child is going to be left behind if allowed to do silly things like ask their grandparent for advice. Once again we see the post war trend of replacing the elders with the experts. The grandparent has no authority or moral standing because he doesn’t have access to the latest abstract, exoteric knowledge. It is that knowledge which the child needs in this world and not any kind of wisdom which an old man may be able to impart.
If you were to fast forward in the world of the grandfather and his grandson to the time after the parents had sorted out the problem, you would no doubt see the child sitting in the back seat of the car with his head stuck in an iPad while the grandfather tries vainly to engage him in conversation. That’s a scene that plays out in family cars and households around the world nowadays. Children barely bother to ask for the answer to a question anymore, they just type it into google and get the answer. Of course, the naivete of children hasn’t changed. They still believe whatever they are told. It’s just that now the child believes whatever google tells it rather than whatever grandpa tells it. And google, ultimately, is just computer code. It’s just a machine. So, the light-hearted scene in the family car hides a more fundamental development.
In post five in this series, we posited that the boomers failed the archetypal task of individuation in the 70s. It seems synchronous that the 80s was the beginning of the computer revolution leading into the IT revolution that now sees young children tuning in to google and a host of other multinational corporations on a daily basis. We see in this the same trend we saw with Dr Spock at the start of the boomer generation. One of the sure fire ways advertising executives found to sell products was to play to the fear of missing out that aspirational parents have for their children. Parents have always been an easy demographic to market to and the use of experts was an obvious strategy. The elder was replaced by experts like Dr Spock. Fast forward a few decades and now Dr Spock has been replaced with algorithms. Real-world doctors have also been replaced with tests and tele-health calls while Big Tech wants to go one step further and replace it all with computer code. What could go wrong?
It would no doubt surprise the average person if they understood how little is really known about these algorithms even by the people who work on them. The censorship which now takes place on social media is algorithm-driven. It’s a very common story to hear that such and such a person has been banned due to some innocuous post. Most people blame political bias and, although there is reason to be suspicious on that score, most of the banning of perfectly acceptable material is done by accident. More specifically, it’s done automatically. The algorithm judged that you were a bad guy and automatically shut down your account. Just like spraying fields with insecticide will kill the good flora and fauna as well as the “bad”, algorithms represent an industrial-scaled approach to an industrial-scaled problem. One of the side effects is a threat to free speech and democracy.
The main issue with the machine learning algorithms, however, is not the bugs in the system but the fact that most of the time they do “work”. They work because they do not require any intelligence whatsoever. Rather, they just apply processing power to the problem. The advertising industry discovered AB testing back in the early 20th century via mail order marketing. The data had to be crunched by hand back in those days. Computers do the same thing in seconds flat. They can crunch enormous amounts of data. There was a story from one of the Obama presidential campaigns, for example, where it was found that making the Sign Up button on the website purple (I think that was the colour) achieved the best the result. Nobody needed to know why purple was better. You didn’t need any colour or sociological theory to explain it. You just try all variations and let the data tell you the answer. So, we remove human intelligence from the matter just like we remove all the other faculties of the human mind, little things like wisdom or morality. Who needs those?
What’s interesting about the IT revolution is how quickly it went from promising new freedom to delivering dystopia. Twitter was a great platform in the early days but now resembles a giant pit of the damned screeching into the abyss. Google used to have a magic ability to return exactly what you were looking for. Now it’s almost impossible to find what you’re looking for. Recently the search engine Duck Duck Go announced that it would start deliberately modifying its search results about the Russia-Ukraine war to ensure users received the “right” information. This from a company that had marketed itself as being one of the good guys.
In the larger arc of post war history which, according to the analysis in this series of posts is the history of the West trying to manifest a new archetype, the IT revolution belongs to the shadow side of the story. It comes in right after the failed individuation attempt of the 70s. It actually has its roots in some of the more positive developments of the boomer era, specifically the systems thinking movement. Steve Jobs and Stewart Brand were hanging around with the hippies in California back in the day. Open source software and other anarchist political theories actually work in the field of programming. There was a lot to be enthusiastic about.
But, of course, it all got bought out and is now controlled by mega-corporations. Apart from anything else, there’s just way too much of it. It’s information overload. Ultimately, it’s all just abstractions; pixels on screens. It’s ended up becoming denial (of reality), obliviousness, passive consumption, victimhood and victimisation; all traits of the shadow side of The Child. Steve Jobs hoped the iPad would be a tool for creativity but anybody who’s watched a child (or an adult) using the thing knows that’s not how it ended up.
As we have seen the last two years, the IT revolution has also become a very powerful weapon in the hands of The Devouring Mother. Faux-compassion is a trademark of the modern corporation. But, as we saw recently with the freezing of bank accounts in Canada, that mask can be dropped very quickly to reveal arbitrary, vindictive and abusive behaviour. It’s interesting that even the machine learning algorithms come across as arbitrary and vindictive, almost as if the computer code itself is channeling the archetype.
At this point, we re-join the story where my previous analysis of The Devouring Mother – Orphan dynamic began. We can now incorporate the extra detail provided in the posts in this series to place that dynamic in its larger historical process.
The dominant European archetype of The Warrior had come to an abrupt end with the world wars. The shift to a new archetype matched the shift of hegemon to the United States and it’s in the US that the new archetypal developments have manifested most clearly with other nations in the west following the lead. The new consumer society based on the Freudian pleasure principle sprung into action. The role of the parent in the nuclear family was foregrounded. Suburbia became the dominant lifestyle paradigm. The nuclear family was increasingly geographically removed from the older generation as multi-generational houses disappeared. The older generation no longer had an economic role, which was replaced by the consumer society, or a cultural role, which was replaced by the experts. What unfolded was a long period that manifested the mostly positive traits of The Innocent and The Mother archetypes.
It also should be noted that there were attempts to address genuine problems. Again, these looked successful early on and brought a long period of peace and prosperity to the west. The environmental movement was initially a grassroots movement aimed at dealing with environmental degradation in all its forms and it produced a number of positive results. More specifically, it harvested the low hanging fruit i.e. the reforms that could be implemented with little economic cost. Once the economic cost started to appear in the 70s, the environmental movement was shut down in the time honoured fashion of buying out the leadership. This is also part of the story of the failed individuation process. Those people could have rallied around Jimmy Carter’s call to live within their means, instead they took up well-paying jobs with corporations.
As noted in the last post, a failed individuation process does not just return things back to normal. Rather, it leads to the manifestation of shadow archetypes. The failure of The Orphan to individuate means it does not achieve autonomy and independence. It does not become a fully-fledged adult archetype but falls back to The Mother for support. Thus, we see both the shadow forms of The Child and The Devouring Mother emerge in the 80s but accelerating significantly from the 90s until today.
Is it a coincidence that at around this time the divorce rates in the US went through the roof? With mothers massively favoured by family law, this led to the role of the mother being foregrounded in many homes. The post war period had seen the removal of the grandparents from the nuclear family. Next came the removal of the father from the nuclear family. Looking at current developments, the parents are apparently being removed altogether. We saw this during corona with questions about what age children could consent to getting a vaccine without their parents knowing. Similarly, the teaching of sex education to primary school children without parental consent is an actual debate at the moment in the US. Is this an urgent social problem in need of rectification? Of course not. It makes sense archetypally, however. Just as grandparents were airbrushed out of the equation in earlier decades, it looks like parents are next on the chopping block.
There’s no point enumerating all the other developments of the last few decades. Suffice to say that the current state of western civilisation is rivaling the late Roman period as world-historically decadent. But the madness is not random. It is the shadow form of The Child enabled and abetted by the shadow form of The Devouring Mother. The two go together and you cannot have one without the other. This is the dynamic that has been driving social affairs since the 80s.
In my book on The Devouring Mother, I noted there were two types of Child: the acquiescent and the rebellious. Within the language of this series, we can now be more specific about these. The acquiescent children are those who manifest the shadow form. What about the rebellious children? I think we can call them Orphans in the sense that they are trying to individuate.
The rebellious children emerged exactly a generation after the ramping up of globalisation in the 90s. That ramping up process was a last gasp attempt to prop up the economic system. The political result of globalisation was to the reduce the power of nation states vis a vis corporations and so the rebellion process took the form of a rejection of that process and a return to nationalism in the form of Brexit and Trump.
However, the rebellion starts to look like an attempt at individuation when we factor in the rise of Jordan Peterson as an elder figure. I noted in earlier posts that Peterson was as much chosen by his audience as he chose them. The audience which chose him is primarily the younger demographic, those at the most likely age for individuation. One of the things this demographic wanted and Peterson provided was a link to the past. They wanted to know what made western civilisation worthwhile. Make America Great Again and Brexit also tapped into these sentiments. This can be seen as the desire to connect with the ancestors, a key part of The Orphan’s journey of individuation. It’s also fitting that Peterson would write self-help books as the desire for self-improvement can be seen as an attempt at individuation in a culture which has no formal processes to facilitate it.
According to this analysis then, what the rebellious children represent is a new attempt to individuate following the failed attempt of the 70s. Given that corona brought about the derailment of that movement (Trump lost; Peterson’s health problems), what that now looks like is the archetypal intervention of The Devouring Mother to prevent individuation on the part of the rebellious children. That makes perfect sense within the archetype because The Devouring Mother does prevent individuation in her children. That is how she retains power over them.
What was it that brought Peterson and Trump undone? “Science” and specifically “vaccines”. These both need inverted commas as neither are accurate descriptions of the reality. It was the simulacrum of science and a simulacrum of a vaccine. We might even say the shadow side of science and vaccines. But science and vaccines are two of the foundation stones of modern western society, at least from a cultural point of view. As Trump and Peterson had set themselves up as defenders of that tradition, they had to support the whole thing. Science and technology can solve all problems. That is the underlying message. That’s part of the reason why Trump is still pushing the line that the vaccines were a success. If the west doesn’t have science, what do we really stand for?
Where does this leave us? On the one hand we have The Innocents in shadow form who represent the political block voting for an increasingly vindictive and manipulative Devouring Mother whose gaslighting now encompasses the rejection of the most basic facts (all in the name of “science”, of course). I fully expect any day now to hear how gravity doesn’t exist. When that happens, there will no longer be any truths left to deny.
On the other hand we have a movement that seems to be trying to individuate but we must be honest about the state of that movement. In comparison to the one that Jimmy Carter had earlier failed to implement, it has some serious flaws. It promises of a return to a golden age that, like all golden ages, was never that golden start with. On a day-to-day basis, its primary political reason for existing is to curtail the worst excesses of The Devouring Mother. Don’t want your six year old to be taught about sex in kindergarten? Vote for me. This is not a forward thinking movement with a tangible vision. It is reactionary.
In the meantime, we look all set for an economic re-enactment of the 70s, only this time round there is almost certainly not going to be a reprieve in the form of new oil discoveries. The globalisation agenda of the 90s has given rise to the ascent of the Eurasian bloc which will now take place alongside the west as a power centre. We will probably see another cold war but this time the west is not well placed to win (although nobody is likely to “win” this time around). Any recognition of these facts is completely missing from the public discourse and a new Jimmy Carter who might once again rally the public to deal with the real underling problems is nowhere to be seen.
In the archetypal story of The Orphan, including the initiation rituals of hunter gatherer tribes, there is significant physical hardship to go alongside the spiritual journey. Although this doesn’t appear to be a necessary element in the individuation process, as Jung’s life shows, it might be required for less spiritualised individuals and cultures like modern western society. Perhaps there must be a literal bearing of the cross and not just a metaphorical one. If so, that is an “opportunity” that is coming our way as we speak. The Devouring Mother can no longer afford to keep all the children in the house. One by one, they’ll have to make their own arrangements and that may be the thing that finally triggers The Orphan to fulfil the archetypal mission. Until then, we look to be stuck in eternal childhood. Not the one James Hillman described but the shadow form of obliviousness and denial.
All posts in this series: