The Aquarians

For something a little different this week I thought I’d post a short story I wrote a while ago. With current world events, it’s no longer as improbable as it was when I wrote it. A romantic comedy set during the decline of industrial civilisation, the story is a little longer than the usual post. It’ll take about half an hour to read.

The Aquarians

Pete bought the engagement ring on his lunch break at a pawn shop next to the payday loan company a couple of streets over from the factory where he worked. He’d avoided the loan business successfully during the last six months, though there were times when its dirty neon lights tempted him inside with the promise of easy money. But he’d blocked out that siren song and managed to pay for the ring in cash that he’d saved up from some overtime he worked shortly after getting the job. There hadn’t been any overtime recently, though. There hadn’t been any work at all and at three o’clock he was called into the manager’s office and fired.

A range of emotions flooded through his body, primarily anger. It wasn’t just that they’d fired him, he’d been fired plenty of times. But they knew he was buying the engagement ring that day. Everybody at work knew. Keeping secrets was not Pete’s strong point, especially when it came to Suzy. He talked about her all the time. In the middle of a conversation about a completely different topic, he’d find a way to throw in a story about her or remark what Suzy thought about the issue. It was charming for a while and then became mildly annoying. But Pete was so earnest in his effervescence that you couldn’t help forgive him, especially after you’d seen a photograph of Suzy which he was all too willing to remove from his wallet and hold up for you to see. She was a year younger than Pete, twenty-one years old with chocolate brown hair that fell down in natural curls on either side of the flawless milky white skin of her face that seemed to set her green eyes sparkling and gave her red lips a vibrant hue. Most would joke that Pete was punching above his weight but he was a handsome young man too with a wiry, athletic physique and an outgoing personality that made it easy for him to make friends. He was an open book which made the job of letting him go that much harder for his boss, Mr Harmison, who in fairness didn’t know about the engagement ring and wouldn’t have remembered even if Pete had told him. He had bigger problems, like how to keep his business afloat. Although Pete was a good worker, he was the newest hire and therefore the one with the least experience. Harmison apologised, promised to give him a good reference and handed Pete his last pay packet.

“A good reference,” Pete muttered to himself as he walked back to the apartment where he and Suzy lived which was about fifteen minutes away by foot. Pete might have been naïve, but he wasn’t dumb. He’d seen the writing on the wall and had been checking the positions vacant in the preceding weeks. There weren’t any. And a good reference wasn’t much use if there were no jobs to apply for. He opened the envelope containing his last pay and looked at the half week’s wages inside. After the purchase of the engagement ring, the contents of the envelope constituted all the money he had in the world. For a brief moment he entertained the idea of walking back to the shop and pawning the ring. He imagined the sarcastic smile on the face of the cashier – “That was quick. She turn you down, mate?” He pictured having to haggle just to get half his money back. The thought made him sick and yet the electricity bill was sitting on the fridge at the apartment and the rent was due next week. He thought of having to tell Suzy that he’d lost another job; that it really wasn’t his fault; he’d worked hard and did all that was expected of him and more. That’s what he’d told her last time and the time before that. He knew the look he would see in her eyes. It wasn’t anger and it wasn’t disappointment. It was worse. It was pity. That was the one thing he couldn’t bear.

As he turned the corner into the street where they lived, Pete paused, reached his hand into his pocket and pulled out the case which held the ring. He flicked it open and held the ring up. The tiny diamond sparkled in the mid-afternoon sun. As often happened to Pete, an idea lodged itself in his head and wouldn’t budge. It was a bold, audacious and ridiculous idea. He knew it. And yet he felt in his stomach that it was the right idea. He would ask Suzy to marry him that evening. He already had it mapped out – the time, the place, the setting. But rather than it do it in two weeks like he planned, he would do it tonight. He flicked shut the case holding the ring and practically ran the remaining distance to the apartment to make the preparations.

When Suzy came home from work a couple of hours later she was greeted by the sight of Pete in a suit and tie, clean shaven and with his blonde-brown hair slicked back. She looked tired and, although the sight of Pete brought a flicker of happiness to her face, it was quickly snuffed out by a look of world-weariness.

“What’s all this?” she said putting her bag and keys down on the kitchen bench and nodding towards Pete’s suit.

“I’m taking you out for dinner,” said Pete walking up behind her and wrapping his arms around her waist.

He closed his eyes and let the scent of her hair envelop him. It contained the familiar hint of cigarette smoke from the café where Suzy worked whose customers were known for their conspicuous disregard for things like anti-smoking laws.

“On a Wednesday?” she asked turning around with a querulous look on her face.

“Best day of the week,” said Pete.

Pete was not a skilled liar and Suzy could tell that he was hiding something but she didn’t have the energy to find out what it was. She pushed off him and walked into the kitchen to get a glass of water.

“Let’s do it tomorrow. We need to talk.”

A talk? The very word sent a shiver down Pete’s spine. Whenever Suzy wanted to talk it was always about something Pete would rather not talk about. Last time it was about how the car registration hadn’t been paid and she’d been pulled over by the police and embarrassed in front of her mother as they were driving to lunch. A talk was the last thing Pete wanted right now. Nothing could be less romantic and less conducive to a marriage proposal than a talk. He had to avoid it at all costs.

“Let’s do the talk tomorrow,” he said following her into the kitchen. “I’ve made reservations at that French restaurant you like out in the mountains.”

Mon cheri?” said Suzy furrowing her brow.

“That’s the one.”

“How are we affording this?”

“I got some money today from work.”

“What? A bonus?”

“Something like that.”

Suzy had disbelief written all over her face but Pete gave her one of his mischievous smiles. He walked over and put his hands around her waist again.

“C’mon. Go and put something nice on and let’s have an evening away from all this,” he said gesturing to the apartment with its cracked painted concrete walls, stained carpet and lightbulbs flickering away beneath dingy lightshades. “After dinner, I’ve got something extra special planned.”


“It’s a secret,” said Pete grinning.

Suzy looked like she was about to argue but Pete got in first.

“How long have we been going out now?” he asked.

“Two years, eight months and five days,” answered Suzy.

“The best two years, eight months and five days of my life,” said Pete.

This time Pete was neither lying nor hiding something. Suzy looked into his deep blue eyes and her heart melted just a little.

“Mine too,” she said quietly as Pete leaned in and kissed her.

“Good. Well, that settles it then,” he said stepping back and playfully pushing Suzy out of the kitchen and towards the bedroom. “You’ve got half an hour to get ready. The reservations are for seven.”

Suzy allowed Pete to push her into the bedroom and close the door behind her. She hadn’t bought any new clothes in over a year. As she flicked through the contents of her wardrobe to find something to wear, her fingertips fell on the soft fabric of a little black dress she’d only worn a couple of times. She draped it over her body, looked at herself in the cracked mirror that hung from the back of the wardrobe door and realised that she had a big smile on her face. She resolved to block out all the questions that had been crowding her mind and enjoy an evening out for once. Her troubles could wait until tomorrow.


The electricity went out in the middle of dessert. Pete was having the Pears Belle Helene while Suzy was indulging in a chocolate mousse. Although it was a Wednesday night, the Mon Cheri was almost full. The sudden darkness was quickly broken by small beams of weak white light emanating from mobile phones at each table. The waiter had retrieved a torch from behind the front counter and could be seen scanning about through the glass in the swinging doors that led to the kitchen area.

“Just a minute, ladies and gentleman,” he’d announced a moment earlier but Pete, Suzy and the other people in the restaurant knew the drill by now.

The blackouts had become more and more common in recent years and all households and businesses now kept a ready supply of backup lighting on hand. Fittingly for the ambience of the Mon Cheri, management had decided on candles as their alternative light source and in no short time the wait staff were placing black candelabras holding large white candles on each table.

“Well, this is romantic, isn’t it?” said Pete grinning at Suzy as the waiter placed the candelabra between them.

He held up his wine glass.


“Cheers,” smiled Suzy as she clinked her glass against his and took a sip of red wine.

The colour of the wine accentuated her already full red lips while the warm light from the candles flickered over her face. The green of her eyes seemed to shine brighter in the soft red light.

“You look even more beautiful than normal in candlelight. Maybe we should get some candles for home,” said Pete.

“So we can save on electricity?” answered Suzy.

“So you can look even more beautiful all the time.”

“I’m not beautiful enough?”

Pete smiled and finished the last of his dessert then washed it down with the rest of the white wine from his glass. The waiter noticed and made a beeline for the table.

“More wine, Monsieur?”

“No, thank you. I’m driving,” said Pete, although truth be told he was more concerned about the size of the bill than his blood alcohol reading.

Another drink might have helped calm his nerves. He checked his pocket for the umpteenth time to make sure the ring was still there. It was. Things had gone perfectly so far. He’d managed to steer the conversation clear of any real world problems that he and Suzy had and keep the conversation light and playful. The next step in his plan was to take the short drive up the mountain to the lookout where he and Suzy had first kissed almost three years ago. It was there that he would pull out the ring and ask for her hand in marriage.  

“Was this the surprise you had planned?” said Suzy licking some chocolate mousse off the back of her dessert spoon.

“What? Making the lights go out? No. I’m not that good. Besides, they don’t need me to help kill the power. They do a good job all by themselves.”

“I know. This is – what? – the fourth blackout this week. I think that’s a new record.”

“Maybe we should leave,” said Pete.

“What? The restaurant?”

“No. The city.”

Suzy took a moment to understand what Pete was saying and her initial look of confusion turned to mild astonishment.

“We could go somewhere new,” added Pete.


“I have a few ideas we can talk about.”

Suzy put her spoon down. The look on her face was not promising.

“So, this is the surprise you had planned? You’re trying to butter me up to get me to move?”

“No…” started Pete but Suzy talked over him angrily.

“Honestly, Pete. You didn’t need to bring me here for that. We don’t have the money to waste on this kind of thing.”

“No, no, no,” said Pete leaning forward and clasping both of Suzy’s hands. “That’s not the surprise and it’s not why I brought you here. It’s just an idea. Forget I mentioned it. Okay? Forget it.”

Pete looked imploringly into Suzy’s eyes and gave her hands a squeeze before sitting back in his chair. She looked unconvinced and Pete knew he had to act quickly to get things back on track.

“Alright, I’ll give you a clue about what the surprise is and you can try and guess. It’s something you and I did when we first started going out.”

Suzy gave Pete an I-don’t-wanna-play-your-silly-game kind of look and Pete responded with one of his extra cheesy smiles which he saved for exactly such occasions when he needed to get Suzy to lighten up.

“C’mon. Guess.”

Suzy shook her head half out of annoyance that Pete could so easily cut through her concern with a boyish grin. She leaned forward, picked up her dessert spoon and scooped a small amount of the chocolate mousse into her mouth, taking a second to savour the taste.

“Well, I’m guessing it’s not the barn of your parent’s farm. That would be a bit far away.”

“No, it’s not,” Pete smiled, partly happy that Suzy was playing along and partly from memories of the barn.

“And I guess it’s not watching the sunrise at Cape Cameron, unless you’re planning to keep me up all night.”

“No, it’s not. Although, I might find a way to keep you up all night.”

Suzy smiled and placed another morsel of mousse on her tongue.

“Well,” she said in a deliberately slow voice to indicate that she already knew the answer.  “If I was to go on proximity alone, I would have to deduce that it’s Brewster’s Lookout.”

“Well done. You could get a job as a detective.”

“Maybe I’ll start a new career when we move somewhere new,” said Suzy but this time in a playful fashion.

Pete decided to avoid that subject and make his move while things were looking good. He clapped his hands together as if bringing the dinner to a close.

“Now, mademoiselle, if you’ll finish that off, we can get to the surprise.”

“It’s not really a surprise anymore, is it?” said Suzy taking the last sip of wine.

“We’ll see,” said Pete giving her a wink as he got out of his chair.

They walked over to the front counter where Pete asked for the bill which the waiter dutifully placed on a small silver tray. Pete glanced at the amount which was thankfully a little less than he had anticipated. He pulled out the envelope containing his last pay which, in his nervousness and excitement earlier on, he had stuffed into his pocket rather than remove the money and put it in his wallet. He pulled the notes out and dropped the envelope on the counter as he counted out the amount for the bill.

Suzy casually picked up the envelope and turned it over. On the back there was pre-printed text in the usual format for a pay packet. It showed the days of the week and their corresponding date, hours worked and amount earned. Suzy could see that the Wednesday on the envelope had today’s date and that lines had been put through the remaining days of the week. At the bottom was a handwritten note which read “Good luck, Pete!”

It was at just that moment that the lights came back on in the restaurant. A sardonic cheer went up from the other patrons. The waiter handed Pete his change which he placed in his wallet then picked up the two after-dinner mints that the waiter had placed on the tray for him and Suzy.

“Excellent timing. This will make the view from the top of the mountain worthwhile,” he said turning to Suzy and holding out the mint for her to take.

He knew immediately from Suzy’s body language and facial expression that he was in trouble. Suzy held up the pay envelope with the reverse side showing.

“So, this was your bonus?” she said in a tone of voice that could have cut glass.

Pete snatched the envelope from her hand and tried to replace it with a mint which fell to the ground after Suzy refused to grasp it. He bent down and picked it up.

“Don’t worry about that now. We can talk about it later,” he said trying to stuff the mint into Suzy’s hand as she ignored it and looked firmly at him with her green eyes which had turned cold and demanding under the artificial light that newly illuminated the room.

Pete cast a nervous glance at the waiter who was trying to be discreet but couldn’t help overhear the conversation.

“C’mon,” said Pete putting his hand on Suzy’s lower back and ushering her towards the door.

“Thank you,” he said to the waiter in as upbeat a tone as he could muster as he led Suzy out the door and towards the car until she pushed him away and waited in silence for him to unlock the doors.

The fifteen minute drive from the restaurant to the lookout was conducted in a deathly quiet driven by a combination of Suzy’s simmering anger, Pete’s inability to think of anything to say that would appease her and his need to focus on the sharp bends in the road as the car wound its way up the mountain. The longer the silence went on for the worse the situation seemed to Pete and with each corner that climbed the mountain he felt as if his stomach was sinking. A flawless evening spoiled by a sloppy mistake. He cursed his carelessness at having brought the pay packet with him and then leaving it right there for Suzy to find. Finally, he realised there was nothing else for it. The only thing he could do was face the issue head on. As they hit the top of the mountain and the road straightened out for the last stretch leading to the lookout, he took a deep breath and readied himself.

“I got sacked today. That’s why they wrote good luck on my pay packet. I guess they thought I’d need it.”

He glanced over at Suzy to see her reaction which was initially the same stone cold façade she had been showing since the restaurant but, like the first few bubbles in a pot of boiling water, emotions started welling up til eventually she threw up her hands and swung around to face him.

“So, why in God’s name did you spend it on an expensive French restaurant?”

Suzy waited half a second for an answer but other questions came blurting out.

“And why are we going to a lookout on a freezing cold night? And how are we going to pay the bills this week? And why are you talking about leaving town? And what’s this stupid surprise all about? Haven’t we got more pressing problems?”

Pete didn’t reply immediately figuring it was better to let her get it all out. In any case, they’d arrived at the lookout. He pulled into the carpark which was darker than he remembered it. The several lights which normally lit the area were all extinguished except a single one which was right near the walking track that led from the carpark to the lookout proper. He brought the car to a halt right in front of it but, as if on cue, it went out just as he turned off the headlights of the car leaving them sitting in near total darkness. He would have assumed this was another blackout but over the tops of the trees and along the pathway directly in front of them he could see the glow of the city lights which seemed to turn the sky into a big white dome.

Pete looked at Suzy. He reached over and placed his hand in hers.

“I can’t remember the order of those questions. But the answers are, I took you to an expensive French restaurant to make you happy. As for the bills, we’ll figure something out like we always do. And as for the surprise, come with me to the lookout and I’ll show you.”

Pete undid his seatbelt and went to open the door when Suzy pulled her hand from his.

“I don’t want to go to the lookout, Pete. We need to talk. I told you before that we needed to talk and instead you brought us up here to waste the last of our money on fancy French food. I can’t do this anymore, Pete. Every time we start to get somewhere we end up back at zero like some sick game of snakes and ladders. And we’re not going to work something out this time. You just spent the last of your wages on a meal and I spent the last of my money on a doctor’s appointment today. So, how are we going to pay the bills this time?”

“Why did you go to the doctor?”

Pete looked at Suzy who turned away and pretended to look out the window.

“Do you have medical problem? Are you sick?” he asked putting his hand on her upper arm.

“No, I’m not sick,” said Suzy pushing his hand away. “Alright, I am sick. I’m sick of this. This way of living.”

“Then let’s leave,” said Pete imploringly. “I told you earlier I have a plan. A fresh start. Somewhere that I can find work. And you can find work. And we can get away from all this.”

Pete gestured towards the city.

“And when were you gonna tell me this great plan? Tonight? Is that why we’re sitting here?”


“Then why are we sitting here, Pete? What are we doing at the top of a mountain?”

Pete allowed his hand to brush over the case holding the engagement ring in his pocket. He thought for a second about pulling it out and asking the question right there in the car but everything was wrong. He hadn’t even considered the possibility that Suzy might say no. Suddenly it seemed a real possibility and it set off a feeling of revulsion in his abdomen that was so strong that he had to turn away to hide it from her.

After what felt like minutes of silence, Suzy spoke quietly.

“I don’t think I can do this anymore, Pete. I don’t see any future for us.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means what I said.”

Pete felt like he was going to throw up. He opened the door and got out of the car. The cold mountain air seemed to slap him in the face. It was dead quiet with not even a breath of wind to rustle the nearby trees of the forest. And it was dark. To the rear of the car on the other side of the road was the mountain range that ran parallel to the city. With the carpark lights out of action, the only source of light was from the city and it threw a diffuse and weak illumination on the trees. On the other side of the mountains, a long way away, was the farm where he grew up. It was over those mountains that he’d come looking for something better.

He turned to face the city and saw the light over the treetops along the path. He used to find those lights intoxicating. They represented excitement, music, pubs, girls, theatre and nightlife; all the things he never had access to in the towns near his father’s farm. They also represented Suzy and that day in late summer when he had brought her here to watch the sunset. Their first kiss had been in front of those lights which seemed to hold so much promise but now seemed to Pete to be fake and gaudy just like the neon lights out the front of the payday loan shop. He looked at the lights now with a mild hatred. And then, just like that, they went out.

Pete blinked to make sure he wasn’t imagining it. The white glow, the dome that the lights threw against the sky above the city, disappeared. And as the city lights rose up and dissipated into space they were replaced by a different set of lights coming from the other direction. Starlight. It was as if a curtain had been pulled away from the sky and the stars stepped forward and began to shine. Pete hadn’t even noticed it before, but an almost full moon sat low on the horizon on the other side of the city just above the tree tops. It was now the main source of light and it seemed to light the pathway that led from the carpark to the lookout.

Suzy got out of the car.

“Another blackout?”

“Looks like it,” said Pete.

Pete brushed his hand one more time against the ring in his pocket, looked up at the moon and knew what he had to do. He walked around and took Suzy by the hand.

“Where are we going?”

“To the lookout.”

They walked down the track with the yellow moonlight beaming down through the break in the forest and reflecting off the pebbles and dirt beneath their feet. The stars above seemed to get brighter by the second as the light pollution from the city disappeared. Finally, they came to the small clearing where the lookout was. There was a steel railing that followed the line of the mountain marking out a semi-circular area that denoted a small cliff face. There were several wooden benches around and a couple of coin-operated telescopes for tourists to look through. Suzy looked up to the night sky.

“I’ve never seen so many stars before.”

Pete looked up too.

“When I was growing up, I used to lie on the grass with my brothers and watch them. My father used to teach us the constellations,” he said.

“Show me one.”

“Which one?”

“I don’t know. Any one.”

Pete thought about it for a second.

“You and I are both Aquarians, so let’s see if I can remember how to find Aquarius.”

Pete took his bearings and tried to remember back to his childhood when he had last looked to the sky. The knowledge came back quickly and Aquarius popped out at him. He put his arm around Suzy’s shoulder and leaned in so he could guide her eyes.

“Ok, first we find Capricorn,” he said and then proceeded to take her through the steps that his father had taught him as a boy.

“Do you see it?” he asked.

“Not really,” said Suzy.

“It takes practice. Aquarius is one of the hardest constellations to find.”

“Maybe we should come up here every blackout so I can get better.”

“So, there is still a we?” said Pete taking his gaze off the sky and back towards the woman by his side.

Suzy let out a sigh.

“Yes, there’s still a we. I didn’t mean it that way. I meant I don’t know what we’re going to do. We’re broke. You don’t have a job. And I…., well, I still need to tell you about my trip to the doctor.”

“You wanted to know what my plan was,” said Pete turning to face Suzy. “I called my uncle this afternoon. He says there’s work for me on the farm if I want it. We could move into a cottage on the property rent free. He thinks he might be able to get you a job with this woman he knows in town which is only ten minutes away. I’m not saying it’s the perfect plan and I don’t know if it’s gonna work. But it is a plan. What do you think?”

“I’ve never lived anywhere else except here,” said Suzy looking down towards the city where the dark shadows of the skyscrapers seemed to hang in the air like giants in suspended animation.

Pete took Suzy by the hand again and they walked up the small set of stairs that led onto the concrete platform that formed the central vantage point that overlooked the city.

“Do you want me to tell you what my surprise was?” he asked.

“Which one? There’s been a lot of surprises tonight.”

“The surprise I originally had planned for after dinner.”


Pete turned to face Suzy.

“I was going to ask you to marry me.”

Suzy’s face scrunched up ever so slightly and tears welled up making her green eyes shine in moonlight.

“But now I know that it’s not the right time because marriage isn’t just about love but about paying the bills and having a roof over your head and all those other unromantic things.”

Suzy broke down crying. Pete put his arm around her shoulder and held her to him.

“It’s not that bad, is it?” he said finally as Suzy stood back and wiped the tears from her eyes.

She took a deep breath and exhaled slowly.

“Do you want me to tell you my news,” she said quietly.

“About the doctor?”

Suzy nodded and looked up at Pete.

“I’m pregnant.”

A kaleidoscope of emotions swirled in Pete’s chest as he processed the news; surprise, confusion, fear, pride, excitement. He and Suzy had talked about children but never seriously. Parenthood seemed like a different world; a world for grown-ups.

“I think we need to sit down,” he said and they took a seat on the wooden bench nearby.

They sat for some time in silence. Suzy shivered in the cold and Pete put his arm around her and drew her close. Together they looked over the dark city below. The moon had risen further and now sat directly above the city like a celestial light bulb providing the luminescence that the city could no longer provide itself.

“This might be the longest blackout yet,” said Suzy. “I wonder if the power will even come back.”

Pete didn’t answer. He looked up at the moon and then retraced the outline of Aquarius in the sky. A strange feeling of assurance welled up from deep within. All his problems suddenly seemed petty and insignificant like he had left them behind down in the darkened streets below. Buried.

After a time, Suzy looked over at him.

“What do you think we should do?”

“I have a proposal,” said Pete.

“Not a marriage proposal?”

“No. Another proposal.”


“If the power doesn’t come back on within the next ten minutes, we get in the car and drive over the mountains to my uncle’s farm and never look back. What do you think?”

“Alright. But I have one request.”

“What’s that?”

“We stop at the apartment first so I can get my clothes.”

“Deal,” smiled Pete as he pulled his mobile phone out of his pocket.

He set the timer to ten minutes and showed it to Suzy as if seeking her approval before pushing the start button. The clock which would decide their fate began counting down.

Pete wrapped his arm back around Suzy and she rested her head on his shoulder and looked up to the stars.

“While we’re waiting, why don’t you show me how to find Aquarius again.”

Archetypes and Geopolitics

I feel the need to start this post with a disclaimer: all models are wrong but some are useful.

What I’m going to do here is take my Devouring Mother model and apply it to the world of geopolitics. At first glance, this might seem like drawing a long bow; stretching the tenuous sinews of a psychological theory into the domain of realpolitik. It may be objected that we already have the disciplines of political theory, economics and military theory to explain geopolitics. What can psychology add to this mix? These may be valid criticisms and yet it seems that the archetypal theory does have something interesting to say about current world events. In any case, there’s no harm in sketching it out. So, with these caveats in mind, let’s take archetypes for a spin around the block and see how they fare accounting for the current state of geopolitics.

I hinted at this geopolitical archetypal analysis in one of my earlier posts on The Devouring Mother (click here for a description of the archetype). Here’s the executive summary: the US Empire is The Devouring Mother. The Devouring Mother has acquiescent children and these are the inner circle of the empire, known as The West (including Japan and South Korea). The Devouring Mother also has rebellious children and these would be the countries who most openly defy the empire including North Korea, Iraq, Iran and now Russia.

The key to the archetype is that The Devouring Mother and the acquiescent children are in a relationship that is not healthy for either party. The mother keeps the children in a perpetual state of dependence which prevents their growing up into full adulthood. Her outward portrayals of kindness or motherly love are facsimiles of real affection and serve to hide her deeper intention which is a will to power and a desire to dominate.

As it turns out, the US Empire fits the concept quite well. Of course, all empires are in the business of domination. What distinguishes the US Empire in the post war years is that it has been run almost entirely on what we can call soft power. We can compare this soft power to an example of hard power in the Roman Empire. The Romans expanded their empire by military conquest. They would subjugate entire areas by force and then convert whoever was still alive into Roman citizens. In archetypal terms, this form of empire building belongs to The Warrior. The Warrior was also dominant in Europe in the centuries leading up to the world wars (it’s not a coincidence that both Hitler and Mussolini idolised Rome). In comparison to Rome and the pillaging and plundering of the colonial era, the American Empire has seen relatively little overt warfare and where war has taken place such as in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, it has mostly been a failure. It has been the soft power that has worked to keep the US Empire running.

Much like The Devouring Mother hides her true intentions behind a façade of niceness, soft power is a cloak for what is really going on: wealth transfer. This happens mostly through financial means such as the dominance of the US Dollar, but it’s also present in more subtle ways. Let’s take a trivial but representative example. Australia is in the inner circle of the US Empire and is therefore one of the acquiescent children. There are a small number of famous Australian actors in Hollywood and yet the Australian film industry is practically non-existent. These two facts are not unconnected. The reason the Australian film industry is non-existent is because American movies and other cultural products flood the Australian market and make movie-making unprofitable here. As a result, the only money available to make movies in Australia comes from the government and because government money always has a number of criteria attached to it that have been cooked up by committees of braindead bureaucrats, it’s practically impossible to make a good film using government money. That’s why most Australian movies are about as entertaining as a catatonic koala on half a pack of Valium. It’s also why anybody with an ounce of talent leaves the Australian film industry as soon as they can and heads to the US.

This is an example of soft power at work. The US benefits because the most talented people from Australia (and other countries) are drawn to it. Those people were raised and educated in Australia using Australian wealth, but they spend their most productive years making money for the US economy. For the US, this is an economic bonus; for Australia, an economic loss. The same thing happens in sectors other than the film industry. This leaves Australia in the position of the acquiescent child, unable to develop our own industries and dependent on the US Empire for products.

Australia gets certain benefits out of being in the inner circle of the US empire but the cost is not just our film and other industries but also the ability to pursue independent policy. Thus, Australian troops were sent to Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan and wherever else the US empire decides to fight. Similarly, Australia is stunted in relation to trade, economic and foreign policy where we are not free to pursue our own interests but must ensure that whatever we do gets the okay from Washington first.

One of the benefits Australia and other nations get from being in the inner circle of the empire is that we can enact the same kind of wealth transfer on countries further down the pecking order. But it is here we are starting to see one of the many indications that the soft power of the US Empire and therefore The Devouring Mother is coming to an end.

A few weeks’ ago I was at a party and got talking to a woman who had migrated to Australia from India. Australia has a large number of immigrants from India who are mostly skilled professionals working in IT and other industries. This woman mentioned to me that she was about to go on a holiday back to her home town in India and I asked whether there were any travel restrictions due to corona there. She immediately and vociferously replied “No, they’re free! Not like us” (where “us” meant Australians).

The bitterness of the reply took me a little by surprise although it shouldn’t have. One of the more shameful episodes in the last two years was when the Australian government made it illegal for anybody who had been to India in a two week period to return to the country. This was a blanket ban justified at the time because of the emergence of the so-called Delta strain. The ban even applied to Australian citizens. The policy stayed in place for about two weeks before being quietly dropped; proving that there was still some limit to the craziness. Although this was an affront to all Australian citizens, it’s not hard to imagine that the Indian community would have felt they were being directly discriminated against and I don’t doubt that the bitterness in this woman’s voice was partly due to that incident.

What I heard in the tone of this woman’s voice was the sound of the soft power of the West circling the drain. Western nations have been an attractive destination for immigrants because of the rule of law, democracy and freedom. Immigrants from India and other countries came to Australia precisely because of the freedom they expected to enjoy here. After the last two years, they can see that Australia now considers the rule of law, democracy and freedom to be conditional. Worse than that, they watch on as our politicians continue to lecture other countries about freedom while failing to ensure it at home. Hypocrisy is fatal to any pretentions of moral leadership and by extension soft power and the hypocrisy of the West is now palpable.

It could be predicted from this that immigrants would be less willing to migrate to western nations and that seems to be exactly what is happening. Like most other countries, Australia is suffering a shortage of workers at the moment and with borders re-opened the government been trying to attract workers from overseas particularly in the medical and teaching professions. This tactic has been Australia’s bread and butter for the best part of two or three decades. I like to the call it the Immigration-Education-Real Estate Axis of Evil. It involves attracting skilled workers, international students and property investors to the country. What it amounts to in practice is nothing more than inflation for Australia while also robbing poorer countries of their wealth in the form of cash and human talent. Trouble is, the government’s new immigration drive isn’t producing the results that were expected. This makes sense if you consider that all western nations are currently competing for available workers at the same time. But I suspect the attitude of the Indian woman I was talking to is also a factor. The behaviour of western nations over the last two years has not gone unnoticed and the outrageous hypocrisy of leaders like Justin Trudeau blabbering on about freedom and human rights in foreign countries while actively violating these principles at home has the effect of reducing any remaining moral superiority the west might have had and with it the soft power that has been the engine of the US empire.

This is just one area where the soft power of the US Empire is going up in smoke. Another kind of soft power is the ability to control the narrative but, as I pointed out in a previous post, westerns nations cannot even control their own internal narrative anymore. The combination of censorship on social media and search engines as well as blatant fabrication of news in the mainstream media increasingly looks like a desperate last stand to try and create a unified narrative where none exists. This leads us back to the rebellious children and specifically to Trump who single-handedly hijacked the narrative in order to propel himself to the presidency.

Trump represented the rejection of the hypocrisy that had come to predominate in the west in recent decades. He didn’t speak nice and he didn’t play nice. He translated the business of geopolitics into raw displays of power. This was a version of straight talk that, whatever else can be said about it, had no hypocrisy in it at all. Trump’s victory put the existing narrative of the west into terminal decline because he forced his opponents to engage in blatant falsehoods (Russiagate) and censorship. In other words, he forced them also to engage in raw displays of power. All pretence of fairness was abandoned as The Devouring Mother showed her hand. In addition, Trump’s tariffs against China signified the end of the free trade status quo. This was another area where the US was no longer going to play nice. In these and other ways, Trump’s victory seemed to signify the end of soft power and therefore the end of The Devouring Mother.

It was tempting to think that Trump’s subsequent defeat in 2020 was a victory for The Devouring Mother and that’s the way it looked at the time. But I think we’re far enough into the Biden administration now to see that this is not the case and it’s mainly in the geopolitical arena that we can see why. The soft power of the US Empire is not coming back. We see that in the fact that various middle eastern countries were not even answering the phone to the Biden administration when the oil price spiked. We see it in the fact that most countries outside the west have not joined in the sanctions against Russia. We see it in the fact that India did a deal to receive Russian oil while also remaining neutral on most of the symbolic measures against Russia. Recently there was even this comedy video from Saudi Arabia mocking Biden. You know things are bad when even the Saudis are making (quite decent) jokes at your expense.

The final domino to fall will be the most powerful element of soft power which is the status of the US dollar as reserve currency. That looks not too far off. We heard news just this week that no less an ally than Israel is increasing holdings of Yuan and Ruble while Russia is on notice as saying it wants to see an end to US dollar hegemony and has a plan to try and bring that about by backing the Ruble with a combination of gold and oil.

Meanwhile on the domestic front there are empty supermarket shelves, spiking petrol prices and unfilled job vacancies in almost all western nations. I saw a random headline the other day that said something like “The days of having lots of choice in the supermarket are over”. Really? Just like that consumerism is all over? Consumerism was one of the defining elements of the post war years and the one that the West used to brag about in relation to the empty shelves in the USSR. In fact, Ronald Reagan’s old joke about buying a car in the USSR sounds a lot more like the west these days.

“You’ll own nothing and you’ll be happy” is the line from The Great Reset. It’s a catchy phrase, but it’s pure fiction. The whole consumer economy is predicated on the dopamine hit that comes from buying things. Where is that dopamine hit going to come from if there’s nothing to buy? In archetypal terms, the consumer economy is one of the foundational elements of The Devouring Mother – Orphan dynamic. It’s the main way in which the “children” are persuaded to acquiesce. If it goes away, so does most of the support for the archetype.

This is also true at the geopolitical level. The dynamic holding together the US Empire together has been the consumer economy with the steady supply of hydrocarbons to power it. The primary justification to ship manufacturing to China was to lower the price of consumer goods but that’s not working out so well any more. Meanwhile, the Russia-Ukraine war signals a paradigm shift in energy supplies. Ironically, it was Trump who had warned the Europeans about their reliance on Russia for energy. This clip has been doing the rounds on the internet in the last few weeks. It shows the then President Trump telling a German delegation that their country had become reliant on Russian energy. The Germans respond by laughing and shaking their heads but with Russian energy supplies no longer guaranteed they’re not laughing anymore. Currently it is US oil released from the strategic reserve that is filling the hole in European markets but how much longer will that last? At some point the US is going to prioritise its own interests over the Europeans and that’s when the relationship is going to break down for real. The Germans in particular seem to realise the situation as their recent announcement of rearmament indicates. That rearmament announcement also signifies the end of the soft power period when the Europeans felt they could freeload off the US military for protection.

What all this adds up to is that the era of The Devouring Mother is fast coming to an end. The soft power of the west is evaporating in real time. The consumer economy is imploding. The final death knell will be the inevitable reset of the US dollar. That event once seemed to be decades away but all of a sudden it may be imminent. When it goes away, so will many illusions about the world we live in. The naivete, denial and obliviousness – all shadows traits of The Child archetype – that has characterised western public discourse of the last few decades will disappear in a puff of smoke. The West will have to bargain in real terms for what it wants rather than rely on soft power to get it.

What can we expect when The Devouring Mother – Orphan departs the scene? We can invoke the other archetypes to make some guesses.

Let’s say The Child archetype comes to the fore. This matches up with anarchist, libertarian and self-organising tendencies. Just as children effortlessly organise their own play into games featuring rules that are never explicitly communicated, we could see brand new forms of social organisation spontaneously appear on the ground. The arrival of The Child would look like an unleashing of energy in localised groups not under centralised control. The Canadian Truckers protest is an excellent example of what that could look like.

Alternatively, The Ruler archetype might come to the fore. The Ruler imposes order from above. This allows people to take responsibility for their actions while also having the freedom to make mistakes. The Ruler would weed out graft and corruption and reassert national sovereignty. The Ruler would re-establish the rule of law (remember that?) and remove power from unaccountable and unelected bureaucrats.

We may see a return to The Warrior archetype. This could very well be a necessity in Europe and the talk of rearmament there looks to be a strong signal in that direction. However, The Warrior does not need to manifest in military form. It may also come to the fore in a business and organisational context too. Any large scale program requiring significant organisational skill would be an example of The Warrior in action.

Finally, we might see The Sage archetype manifest in the form of new religions or the re-emergence of old religions. This is what Spengler predicted with his Second Religiosity. This would sweep away all the hypocrisy, propaganda and gaslighting and replace it with simple but profound truths that re-unite society behind common assumptions about reality.

Of course, these are the positive forms of the archetypes and there is no guarantee that we won’t see other shadow forms take the place of The Devouring Mother. It’s also true that we can expect different nations to start to go their own way including those on the inner circle. As the US empire retreats, Europe looks to be particularly exposed and a return of The Warrior looks very likely. For Australia and New Zealand, a lot will depend on whether the US will be able to project power into the Pacific and how assertive China becomes. On current form, it seems quite possible we will continue to manifest The Child in shadow form whether under US or Chinese dominance. The US itself seems best placed to pursue the positive traits of The Child in the sense that there will be significant internal differences between the various states. Of course, those differences may become so great that they result in the dissolution of the country.

Finally, it’s worth noting that whichever archetype takes over from The Devouring Mother, it will still be the same old battle between the positive and shadow forms. As Solzhenitsyn noted, the divide between good and evil runs through every human heart and that’s not going to change any time soon.

The Age of The Orphan Part 12: Conclusion

In this series of posts we’ve taken a long and meandering route largely because I myself didn’t know exactly where the path would lead and so it’s been as much a learning experience for me as for anybody. That’s quite fitting given that the initial post in the series was about the path of learning and, as we’ve seen, there are multiple paths of learning or, looked at another way, multiple dimensions to the path of learning. Stories are a useful way to explain this idea because they also work at multiple levels simultaneously. There is the physical journey of the protagonist alongside an emotional, psychological and perhaps even spiritual journey. To return to one of the stories we have used throughout this series, we can map the journey taken by Neo in The Matrix onto the levels of being introduced in the last post and get something like this:

Level of BeingNeo’s Journey
SpiritualNeo learns the true nature of reality. He sees “the real world” with his own eyes for the first time
PsychicThe Matrix is the psychic realm. Neo learns to see the reality behind it and then to master it from the “outside”
PhysicalFrom the pod where he is nothing more than a battery for The Matrix to the ship with Morpheus and the others

The Orphan’s journey takes place in the physical world via the biological metamorphosis of puberty. It takes place in the  social world by coming-of-age i.e. finding a job, starting a family. These are universals of human experience. Participation in the other dimensions of The Orphan’s journey is dependent on the extent to which the individual is predisposed for them and receives appropriate guidance from Elders. Thus, in a culture that has an understanding of psychological matters, it’s possible to receive guidance from a psychotherapist or similar role. In a culture which practices metaphysics and spirituality, one may receive guidance from a spiritual leader. These dimensions of the path are less universal and, in fact, the spiritual path has always been reserved for the few. We can map these distinctions onto the story of The Matrix as follows:-

DomainNeo’s Journey
SpiritualAttains enlightenment i.e. understands the rules of The Matrix and how to break them but is also living in “the real world” outside The Matrix
IndividuationTranscends his shadow traits i.e. doubt, indecision, to fulfil the archetypal mission of The Sage
Coming of ageNeo abandons his job, his apartment and his place in the world and joins a group. There is a formal initiation into the group which marks the beginning of his membership and also the beginning of the psychic and spiritual journey. His romantic journey with Trinity also begins.

Although you wouldn’t know it cos of all the violence and action, the story of The Matrix is the story of a spiritual or religious quest and that is why Neo is best thought of as representing The Sage archetype. For most of the history of civilisation, only a small number of people were chosen for the spiritual path (esoteric spirituality). The majority of the population was inducted into the exoteric forms of religion and this formed part of their coming of age alongside finding work and getting married.

One of the things we have attempted to do in this series of posts is extrapolate The Orphan story to account for larger socio-cultural trends. This gives us something like this:

DomainWestern Culture
SpiritualGod is dead (and science isn’t looking too hot either)
IndividuationPropaganda, advertising, marketing, internet and social media all competing for “psychic real estate”. Psychoanalysis has not been able to counteract malefic psychic forces
Coming of ageBullshit jobs, bureaucratic micromanagement and the financialisation of everything reduce the esoteric component of work. Divorce and encroaching state power reduces the status of marriage and the family. Very low participation in exoteric religious forms

This current status of western society is the continuation of trends that have been in place for a long time. If we zoom back to the 1800s, we see that the esoteric component of the Church had long been moribund. The exoteric functions were still in place although the State began to take over many of those in the early 1800s starting with Napoleon and continuing right up until the world wars. The rise of the State alongside the new industrial economy was something quite new. Democratic capitalism, socialism and fascism were just the three best known configurations of how to order society in this new world. The utopianism of this period was a reflection of the optimism of a new dawn, an optimism that was quickly extinguished due to the tens of millions who died in the 20th century in wars, famine and other atrocities that were made possible due largely to the unprecedented concentration of power in the State.

This was the era when spirituality and metaphysics were explicitly rejected. Nietzsche announced the death of God while western philosophy and science lost all interest in metaphysical questions. Although science and technology have come to fulfil a quasi-religious role in the modern west, it is a simulation of real religion for the very reason that it eschews all metaphysical questions. Nevertheless, there was a strong esoteric component to science prior to the wars. It was the age of heroic science and the geniuses who dominated it are still household names to this day. However, in the post war period, science has largely come to take on an exoteric function beholden to the financial interests of corporations and the political interests of the State. This seems to have had the effect of all but extinguishing the esoteric aspect of the work. The shoddy science that was wheeled out to justify the corona debacle is the best indicator of this trend.

It’s noteworthy that interest in the psychic realm exploded at exactly the same time as the State was taking over from the Church in the 1800s. Could it be that the Church had been keeping a lid on this or was it the case that the new communication mediums amplified the psychic signal? Whichever it is, we have seen the progressive amplification of psychic content in the years since then. The word amplification is quite literally true when one considers the sound and light shows of the Nazis which represented something brand new at the time. In the post war years we saw the emergence of radio, television and finally the computer and IT revolutions all of which have seen the amount of “psychic content” that the average person consumes reach new heights. It’s fair to say that this barrage has now reached saturation point where there is simply no more hours in the day by which a person can hook themselves into The Matrix. The only way “forward” would be a qualitative change such as that promised by virtual reality and the metaverse.

In the “real world”, the average person remained grounded throughout all these changes by the coming-of-age rituals of marriage, work and family.  But these have also been degrading steadily over recent decades with the rising divorce rates, low birth rates, casualisation of work, bullshit jobs and similar trends. With the globalisation movement of the 90s, millions of jobs were shipped to China which left whole areas of the United States in particular to become as good as desolate. As mentioned in post 10 of this series, we may now be entering a time when the exoteric structure provided by the religion of work itself begins to break down.

In short, it does seem like we are coming to the end of a cycle or perhaps even a number of cycles simultaneously. What is curious about that is that the rejection of The Orphan’s mission implies a rejection of part of what we can call the cycle of life and this rejection mirrors a rejection of another part of that cycle which is The Elder. The cycle might look something like this:

The physical journey starts at birth then continues through the physical changes of puberty into adulthood and closes up with the gradual diminishment of physical capacity that constitutes the Elder years. In the archetypal sense, we begin life as Innocents in a state where our consciousness is not fully formed. The Orphan stage denotes a metamorphosis of the psyche. It’s the time when we are metaphorically, and sometimes literally, kicked out of the parent’s house and forced to become adults. Psychically speaking, this represents the formation of consciousness. Finally, the Elder stage represents the gradual fall back into unconsciousness. This is true both in a personal and collective sense. Elderhood is the transition into death which means one is about to become an ancestor and the ancestors are part of the collective subconscious. Spiritually/metaphysically speaking, different traditions will have different explanations of what the death transition means.

Both The Orphan and The Elder represent metamorphoses in a physical, psychic and potentially spiritual sense. But, as we have seen, modern western society denies both of these metamorphoses. We don’t have Elders any more in the spiritual or psychic sense and even in the physical sense the elderly are usually physical removed from the scene of action and tucked away in nursing homes out of sight and out of mind. Stephen Jenkinson is perhaps the most eloquent of writers who has described the emotional ramifications of what happens when such people must come to face their death in a society which has no spiritual or psychic structure to deal with the subject. He, correctly in my opinion, views the increasing trend towards voluntary euthanasia as a denial of the whole problem of death. It’s the easy way out. One can also see this easy way out in the heavy use of sedatives and other drugs among the elderly.

Having gotten rid of The Elder transition, we now seem intent on getting rid of The Orphan transition too. The modern west has long since abandoned any esoteric spiritual path. Psychotherapy was seen as a great hope in the psychic realm; a way to reach the spiritual through the psychic. Yet its results have underwhelmed. Work and marriage have degraded as coming-of-age ceremonies on the physical plane. And now finally the transgender issue which has come to the fore in recent years seems also to target the biological metamorphosis of puberty. We are just now starting to hear about “puberty blockers” and other interventions designed to delay puberty. This looks an awful lot like denial just like euthanasia is the denial of death.

There’s very little evidence as to the side effects of long term use of puberty blockers. Of course, a lack of proper scientific research doesn’t seem to matter when it comes to medical inventions anymore.  I wouldn’t at all be surprised to see puberty blockers rolled out on masse in the years ahead. If they are, it would fit the schematic pattern to a tee.

Level of BeingThe metamorphosis of The Orphan
PhysicalPuberty leading to sexual and physical maturity

If our society no longer facilitates The Orphan’s transition in the spiritual or psychic realm any more, the transgender debate seems tailor made to bring the rejection of The Orphan’s metamorphosis down to the physical plane too. The notion of “eternal childhood” may very well be on the cards in a biological sense.

What is being rejected in the inability to facilitate both The Elder and The Orphan metamorphosis is some of the most basic conceptual dualities of life: birth/death, male/female, young/old. The trans debate seems custom designed to blow up the male/female duality; a duality which manifests during puberty and the subsequent years where The Orphan discovers their sexuality. It’s because these years are so difficult that traditional societies put all kinds of ceremonies and practices in place to help The Orphan through. Our society, by contrast, first removed those ceremonies and practices and now seems to want to remove the biological metamorphosis altogether. Viewed archetypally, there would be no more Orphan transition but that would also mean there would be no real adulthood. One’s life would be lived in eternal childhood as an Innocent. But this entails the rejection of the whole notion of cyclical time as well as the cycles of life. It’s also the rejection of the binaries of male/female, young/old, orphan/elder. It’s this rejection that underlies why nobody can define a woman in public discourse anymore or why biological men must be allowed to play woman’s sports. The underlying ethic, if that’s what you can call it, is the dissolution of all binaries.

In traditional theology/metaphysics, a binary is resolved by the ternary. But, if you dissolve the binary, you end up back at the unary. Another way to think about it is that it gets you back to the start of the cycle although in the “wrong” direction. The Hero’s Journey, like the life cycle, moves clockwise and at the end you have transcended to a new level. That transcendence is at the heart of almost all religious teaching. The direction of modern society is counter-clockwise and descends downwards. This is no transcendence, only dissolution.

12 o’clock is the point of death/(re-)birth and represents the point of maximal unconsciousness. That seems to be where we heading now in the west. Hence the fact that modern society really does resemble a madhouse where rationality and consciousness plays no role. The daily appearance of absurdities comes about because the dualities themselves are dissolving back into the unary, but the unary is where nothing is formed. In Jungian terms, it is the unconscious, disorder and chaos. If all this feels like anathema to the conscious, reasoning mind, it’s because it is. The good news is that life is more than consciousness and more than reason and logic. As the Buddhists say: the lotus flower grows out of the mud. At the moment, we’re stuck in the mud but eventually a new flower will grow and the next cycle will take hold.

With these thoughts we end the cycle that has been this series of posts. 12 in all, which matches to 12 o’clock (I swear I didn’t plan it that way). It’s also kind of weird that this post would just happen to be published on Easter: the resurrection.

What began as an exercise in applied Jungian theory has covered a lot more ground. I feel like there is a book in there somewhere but I’ll have to go back and sift through the material to find it. Perhaps the key point is that Jungian psychology is not just psychic. There does appear to be a structure there that aligns with and predicts developments in other dimensions i.e. physical, spiritual. That’s why we’ve been able to trace back The Orphan story from a kind of behavioural analysis and find that it matches to larger socio-cultural trends. I think Jung himself always believed this was true of psychology but the work still remains to be done to make the connections explicit. Maybe this is one step in that direction.

All posts in this series:

The Age of The Orphan Part 1: The Path of Learning

The Age of The Orphan Part 2: Defining the Archetype

The Age of The Orphan Part 3: A Short Theoretical Introduction

The Age of The Orphan Part 4: Initiation, culture and civilisation

The Age of The Orphan Part 5: Ok, boomer

The Age of The Orphan Part 6: The Spirit of the Depths

The Age of The Orphan Part 7: The Metaphysics of Archetypes

The Age of The Orphan Part 8: The Current State of Play

The Age of The Orphan Part 9: How to learn to stop worrying and love The Matrix

The Age of The Orphan Part 10: Work is our religion

The Age of The Orphan Part 11: The Missing Link

The Age of The Orphan Part 12: Conclusion

The Age of The Orphan Part 11: The Missing Link

I have mentioned a number of times in this blog that I test software for a living. In software testing you are being paid to find bugs in the software and, although the quality of the software relies on the whole team and even the best tester can’t make crap software good, the tester is usually in the firing line when a bug makes it through to the real world. The dynamic is this: upper management finds out about the bug, usually because a customer complains, and they want to know how it got through. In their minds, it’s the tester’s fault. This makes sense as they are paying the tester to find bugs. So, they come to you for an explanation of why you didn’t find the bug.

Especially early in your career, this is a stressful moment and it’s often made more stressful because the bug is really obvious. It’s the kind of thing anybody could have found and yet you missed it. This looks really bad for you and you know that it’s natural that other people will be questioning not just your competence at your job but perhaps the correct functioning of your mental faculties in general. “Are you a complete moron?” they are probably asking themselves. “Only a complete moron could have missed this problem.”

Missing things that are right in front of our nose is unfortunately not just the exclusive domain of morons. It happens to the best of us. It happens because we only see in the world what we are looking for. This is sometimes called selective attention. For those who haven’t seen it, this is the classic video to demonstrate the concept. If you haven’t done the exercise before, make sure to follow the instructions without reading anything in the comments first.

Software testers must learn to mitigate the bias caused by selective attention by having a variety of heuristics or mental models that we cycle through. A way to think about this is a series of looking glasses that you hold over your eyes. Each will give you a perspective on the world but there is no one perspective that has the complete picture. The trick is to remember this fact and understand that there is always another perspective and always the possibility that you are missing something.

With these considerations in mind, we can say that Jungian psychology is just one lens upon the world and we need to be aware of where it fits into the scheme of things. It would not be an exaggeration to say that Jung and Freud introduced this lens to the modern west. Although there were fringe traditions in the west that had been dealing with the psychic realm for some time, there was little notion of the unconscious in the general culture. As the west began to learn about eastern traditions in the 1800s, it was noted that the East had a much more psychological bent.

Another way to say this is that the west was well behind on psychological understanding until Jung and Freud showed up. The 20th century was the time when the west discovered psychology. We set about putting the new knowledge to work in positive ways like psychotherapy where we help individuals with personal psychic problems. The knowledge has also been put to use in mass propaganda campaigns, advertising, government “nudge” units and other less salubrious agendas. Looking at the current state of the western psyche, you’d have to say that the lessons of psychology haven’t prevented society from being overwhelmed by malefic psychic forces; a possibility Jung was painfully aware of and did his best to try and mitigate.

James Hillman pointed out the problem in his book “We’ve had a hundred years of psychotherapy and the world’s getting worse.” Is this is a problem with psychology itself? Would it be solved if we only switched from the Freudian paradigm where repressed sexual desire causes all problems to a Jungian paradigm? Perhaps. But such solutions locate the problem within psychology itself and we must remember the point made above: psychology is just one area of study dealing with one aspect of life. Maybe the problem also lies elsewhere.

Therefore, we need to locate psychology within a broader framework and in doing so we’ll clear up an ambiguity that’s been present throughout this series of posts which is the difference between initiation and individuation. I’ve been using the two concepts as synonyms but, as we’ll see, they belong to different frames of reference.

For our purposes here, I’m going to use a bastardised mix of concepts. What we are talking about are levels of being and there are entire systems of metaphysics that go into this in great detail. My purpose here is to just provide a high level overview of the basics. With that said, here’s a sketch.

Level of BeingFacultyField of Study
SpiritualTranscendental intuition (revelation)Religion (esoteric)
MentalIntellect (reason, logic, dialectic)Philosophy
Psychic (soul)Dreams, imagination, art, visions, emotionsBiology/zoology (instinct), psychology
EthericVibe, animal magnetismN/A
MaterialBody, five sensesPhysics, chemistry

Now, in some sense this table is a lie. After all, you can’t study physics and chemistry using just your sense organs. You’ll need to engage the mental too and, although modern scientists don’t like to admit it, the psychic also plays a role and so too does the spiritual. It’s also true that the levels of being interact with one another. Jung started out as a doctor and part of his research involved the discovery that problems with the psyche can also manifest on the material plane as physical illness. As far as I know, the mental plane hasn’t been shown to cause physical illness, although anybody who’s had to trudge through Kant, Hegel and Heidegger might disagree.

Jung’s life work was spent in the psychic domain but one of the things that differentiated him from Freud was that Freud was intent on explaining psychology from the “lower levels”. He wanted to show how instinct, especially sexual instinct, was the root cause of all psychological complexes. Jung, on the other hand, was always more interested in the interface between the psychic and the spiritual.

Sorting out the difference between the psychic, the mental and the spiritual is a very tricky business involving all kinds of tangles. The philosopher, Kierkegaard, for example, showed in a number of his works that you cannot reason your way to the spirit. No amount of logic or dialectic can get “access” to the spiritual and, in fact, when analysed in rational terms, the spiritual is absurd. He concluded that one must simply take a leap of faith. Others, including the more noisy atheists of our time, take the same observation and conclude that the spiritual can be dispensed with entirely.

If we take accounts of spiritual experience seriously, we say that access to the spiritual is through what we might call “intuition”; a kind pure intellect. Jung defines it this way – “The seat of faith, however, is not consciousness but spontaneous religious experience, which brings the individual’s faith into immediate relation with God.” (The Undiscovered Self, p.62) However, in other places Jung also says that spiritual experience is always mediated through the unconscious. This ambiguity between the psychic and the spiritual can also be seen in Jung’s calls for psychotherapists and priests to team up to deal with the psychic/spiritual problems besetting modern man.

To draw a clearer picture of the distinction between the spiritual and the psychic, we can introduce another thinker who was just nine years younger than Jung: Rene Guenon (thanks again to commenter Austin for the reference here).

I have been using Guenon’s distinction between the exoteric and esoteric throughout this series of essays. Guenon’s critique of the modern west is far more polemical than Jung’s. Jung was approaching the problems of the modern psyche as a physician intent primarily on restoring mental health. Guenon approaches the problems from a strictly traditionalist metaphysical point of view. Guenon would agree with the analysis of the archetypal Orphan’s journey described in earlier posts. He would call this “tradition” and further define the modern west as a deviation from tradition. In a healthy tradition, there is an exoteric system that orders society but also provides initiation into the esoteric components of the religion for those who are gifted in that manner. In modern society, as Jung had also noted, we have no tradition. In fact, we explicitly reject tradition and therefore we are without initiation.

For Guenon, the ambiguity between the psychic and the spiritual that can be seen in Jung’s work is a symptom of the larger problem. In a traditional society, the spiritual would be given its proper place above the psychic and would therefore keep the psyche in line. When this does not happen we get caught up in the “illusions” of the psychic realm and this inevitably leads to what Guenon calls the “infra-human” by which I am quite sure he is referring to the shadow side of the psyche. Why is modern society manifesting The Devouring Mother and the shadow side of the child? Because we have renounced tradition. That’s what Guenon would say.

If we return to the levels of being above, we can reframe these into an archetypal journey which ascends to the highest level of the spirtual. We begin in childhood in the lower realms of the material, etheric and lower psychic (instinct/unconscious). During puberty, The Orphan’s mission is to develop the higher psychic elements (consciousness) and hopefully also the mental capacities. In a traditional society, this is also the time of initiation into the spiritual. Thus, one must go “through” the psychic to get to the spiritual. The psychic is not the final destination. Guenon uses the metaphor of sailing. We must sail across the sea of the psychic to reach the spiritual on the other side. But the journey is dangerous and we need an elder to guide the way and teach us how to navigate (it is noteworthy that Guenon’s sailing metaphor matches exactly to the plot of A Wizard of Earthsea where the wizard Ged must eventually sail alone for the final showdown with his shadow).

With this in mind, we can finally draw a distinction between two concepts I have been using interchangeably throughout this series of posts: initiation and individuation. Initiation is the induction into a tradition for the purposes of attaining to the spiritual or metaphysical level of being. Individuation relates to psychic processes in the psychic realm. These will happen whether or not the individual is going through a spiritual initiation, although the manifestation would be different. Guenon would state that the current spate of psychic illness including the mass psychoses of the last two years occur precisely because of the absence of proper initiation. It’s possible for people to individuate in the absence of initiation, but a lot can go wrong. Jung made his career addressing those problems from within the domain of the psychic. For him and other psychotherapists, individuation is limited to that domain even though Jung himself was keenly aware that the root cause of the issues could very well be spiritual.

We can map these distinctions as follows:

Level of BeingProcess
Psychic (soul)Individuation
MaterialComing of age (getting a job/place in society)

For Guenon and other traditionalists, the correct ordering here is top down. Thus, the spiritual should provide the exoteric framework which orders the mental, the psychic and all the way down to social norms and ceremonies.

The archetypal story of The Orphan as seen in its purest form in The Matrix, Star Wars and A Wizard of Earthsea, operates on all levels of being. The protagonist is not just coming of age and not just individuating but also being initiated into a metaphysics which is a spiritual journey.

In mainstream modern society, we have no tradition and no elders who belong to that tradition who can guide would-be traveller’s along the journey to the spiritual. As a result, we are on our own sailing the seas of the psychic getting lost in the delusions of propaganda, party politics, advertising and marketing. These delusions are now starting to have an impact further down the levels of being and will continue manifesting on the material plane in the near future.

It would be tempting to think that we can just re-instate the spiritual and fix the problem but Guenon has some bad news for us and the news mirrors the diagnosis of Jung and Spengler. What they all seem to agree on is that we will see a new religiosity but it will not be a “true” spiritual movement but a counterfeit one. If Guenon is right, we will see a false idol appear before we finally bottom out to the end of the current cycle and begin the new. Jung also captured this idea with the end of the age of The Antichrist.

To revert to the story of The Orphan, we won’t be able to properly initiate until the appearance of the new idol who will be the real deal and will be the elder that leads the collective back to the spiritual and instigates the beginning of the new era.

All posts in this series:

The Age of The Orphan Part 1: The Path of Learning

The Age of The Orphan Part 2: Defining the Archetype

The Age of The Orphan Part 3: A Short Theoretical Introduction

The Age of The Orphan Part 4: Initiation, culture and civilisation

The Age of The Orphan Part 5: Ok, boomer

The Age of The Orphan Part 6: The Spirit of the Depths

The Age of The Orphan Part 7: The Metaphysics of Archetypes

The Age of The Orphan Part 8: The Current State of Play

The Age of The Orphan Part 9: How to learn to stop worrying and love The Matrix

The Age of The Orphan Part 10: Work is our religion

The Age of The Orphan Part 11: The Missing Link

The Age of The Orphan Part 12: Conclusion

The Age of The Orphan Part 10: Work is our religion

Arbeiten zum vergessen is a phrase associated with the post war years in Germany. It means “working in order to forget”. You fill your days with things to do because if you allow a little bit of space you might start reflecting on unpleasant matters. So, you put your head down and ensure you don’t have any free time. This work ethic is partly credited for giving rise to the wirtschaftswunder (economic miracle) of the West German economy in the post war years. Arguably, the consumerism of that time served a similar purpose of forgetfulness. When you weren’t working, you were shopping or otherwise entertaining yourself. Nowadays we have the internet, Youtube, Netflix and a million other distractions. There’s an almost unlimited number of ways to fill up your day and prevent any pesky free time from causing troublesome thoughts to arise. Thoughts like “what am I doing with my life” and “what’s the meaning of it all.” The exact kind of thoughts that should be dealt with during the initiation/individuation process.

Although the baby boomers are remembered mostly for free love, rock festivals, protests and other rebellious activities, the truth is that it was a small but vocal minority who were driving those trends. Most boomers got a job and settled down in the suburbs with a house and 2.3 children. It was the era where it was still possible to work for a single company your whole life and get a gold watch when you retired.  It was also the era when active participation in religion dwindled steadily as the Sunday church service was replaced by the Sunday drive.

I mentioned in the last post a phrase uttered by ex-Prime Minister of Australia, Julia Gillard, “work is our religion”. This is especially true here in Australia which is the most bourgeois society on the planet (Canada and New Zealand being the main competitors for the title. It’s not a coincidence that these countries had the most hysterical corona response). Once upon a time, I volunteered as an English teacher to refugees here in Melbourne. As part of the program, us volunteers were given a couple of days training during which we were shown a video of one of the sessions held with the refugees when they were being settled. The facilitator of the session stood in front of the group, who were mostly of African and Middle Eastern origin, and told them “you have to work. In Australia, everyone must work.” What she meant was “you have to get a job. You have to be in paid employment.” Why did she need to spell it out so explicitly? Because where they come from everyone doesn’t have to have a job and, in fact, the idea that everyone must have a job is fairly new even to western countries.

Ask the average person why everybody has to have a job and they’ll say it’s because there are things that need to be done. But, as we found out during corona, this is not really true. It turns out there are entire industries that are “non-essential”. So, we don’t really need to work. We work because work is our religion. Using the terms of this series of posts, we say that paid employment is the exoteric framework of society. That’s what the facilitator was trying to convey to the refugees. In order to fit in here, you must get a job. She’s right. By most metrics, people who are unemployed do worse than people who are employed. We assume this is because the unemployed are poorer but there’s much more to it than that. To be unemployed is not to fit in. It is to be a social outcast. For that reason, the unemployed are far more likely to commit crime, become drug addicts and have mental health problems.

To use another term from this series of posts, getting a job is an initiation. As with all initiations there must be a preparation and the preparation for the initiation of work has become incredibly long in the modern west. A full sixteen years is now the norm as even our universities have reoriented around what purports to be vocational training. Teachers and professors are therefore the elders and the process ends in your becoming a butcher, a baker or a candlestick maker. After tribal initiations, you might have been known by your spirit animal or the moiety to which you belonged. After an initiation into the religion of work, you’re known by your job title. “What do you do?” is usually the first question anybody asks a stranger.

The religion of work is so ingrained in western culture that most people couldn’t imagine life without it. But, a quick look back in history reveals that many cultures viewed work in a very different way. “Only slaves work”. That would have been the attitude of your average Athenian or Spartan in ancient Greece. If a citizen of those societies ended up working for a living, that was proof that something terrible had happened to them. They must have made some gigantic mistake. There could be no other reason to demean oneself by working.

In his classic essay “In praise of idleness”, Bertrand Russell pointed out that modern society has long had the technical and organisational means to almost entirely do away with work. This had been proven in the centralised economies of the war years. It would have been a trivial matter to rejig those economies to satisfy basic needs and allow every citizen in western countries to live a life of leisure. We didn’t do it and a big part of the reason why is because of the work ethic which is traditionally associated with Protestantism (Max Weber’s famous Protestant Work Ethic) but also has strong roots in the catholic tradition too.

The religious origins of the work ethic are no coincidence and it is here we must differentiate between work and paid employment. Paid employment can be thought of as the exoteric form of work. It’s the societal structure that organises the activity. It should be counterbalanced by an esoteric side which we can call the spiritual aspect of work. This is the higher meaning of the work and it comes through to the extent that you feel your work is a manifestation of what we could call the spirit or even God.

The same is true for leisure time. The word holiday means “holy day”. It was not the time to visit the local shopping centre. It was the time to celebrate the sacred. Both work and leisure are sacred to the extent that through them you are celebrating and manifesting the spirit. A “religion of work”, on the other hand, puts the cart before the horse. Work should be in service of the sacred, not an end in itself.

The whole problem with work in the industrial era is that the sacredness has been taken out of it. This was true right from the beginning of the industrial revolution. The fire pits of the factories even looked like the flames of hell. Those fire pits have been replaced by office suites but from a spiritual point of view the situation is not really much better as I outlined in my post on the trauma of bullshit jobs. Similarly, the filling of leisure time with consumerism removes the sacredness from that activity as well. The religion of work and the associated religion of consumerism are just facsimiles of actual religion.

Thus, although work in the form of paid employment has taken up the role of initiation in our society, it is not a proper initiation in any sense of the word. Businesses are in business and must prioritise finances over people. Strangely enough, many people appear not to understand this. Back when the GFC hit, the company I was working at fired about 1/3 of its employees. I had fully expected to get fired myself but through a stroke of luck was not. What was surprising was how surprised my colleagues were. Many seemed genuinely shocked. “How could they do this to us?” was a phrase one of my teammates uttered. This was a middle aged man who had much more experience of work life than I did and yet he seemed unaware of the realities of the business world. He seemed to think the company owed him something other than the legally prescribed severance package.

In traditional religions, you only got kicked out if you became a heretic or an apostate. In the religion of work, you can be kicked out at any time based on unknown market forces. Nobody is responsible. Nobody can be held to account. It’s just the way it is. And if the market forces are severe enough, you may find yourself excommunicated into permanent unemployment with a skillset and experience that the economic gods no longer deem worthy. If work is our religion, it’s a heartless one. Wolfgang Giegerich was right, there is a brutality to it all. It is, in fact, an anti-human system or at the very least ahuman. Humans are merely incidental to the process. If they can be automated away or their jobs shipped overseas, all the better.

These free market forces just happen to also fit the archetype of The Devouring Mother: arbitrary, vindictive (from the employee’s point of view) and callous. The outward shows of empathy like “we value our employees” or “we encourage diversity” only apply as long you toe the line and as long as there is a need for you. It is certainly not the unconditional love of the true Mother archetype. And things are getting even more arbitrary now that your job can be judged “non-essential” based on unknown criteria cooked up by a room of unelected bureaucrats. No correspondence will be entered into and the judge’s decision is final. Sorry, not sorry.

As Sir James Goldsmith noted back in the 90s, the economy is supposed to work for the people and not the other way around. One way to look at the globalisation agenda of the 90s is that we deliberately put the economy above the people. Where that happened most clearly, however, was not the west but China. China instituted an old-fashioned form of uber-capitalism, albeit one wrapped up in a socialist façade. In China there are no labour laws, no health and safety laws, no unions and, in fact, almost no protection in law at all for citizens and workers. As bad as The Devouring Mother nanny state is in a country like Australia, it’s ten times worse in China. Hence the social credit scores and facial recognition and all the other wonderful technological innovations going on over there.

In March 2020, the west decided to copy China. Is that a coincidence? Is it a coincidence that the complete disregard for human rights, civil liberties, rule of law and democracy that we have seen the in west in the last two years mirrors the situation in China? The west shipped our jobs to China and with it our anti-human religion of work, consumerism and greed. To use an old phrase, we helped create a monster. In 2020, we got it all back with interest. There is a certain karmic justice to the whole thing.

But since then the story has taken a twist. The side effects of globalisation had already been building in the west in the form of real estate and asset bubbles and general decline in the quality of life. To take just one example from Melbourne, the length and quality of the average person’s commute, whether on public transport or by road, had become steadily worse in the years leading up to corona. Many people were already feeling the pinch of this hidden inflation. The religion of work was already bursting at the seams. Then corona hit and now you have mandatory gene therapy and masks to add to the top of the list of “inconveniences” just to earn a living. To this day, many workers still have to wear a mask at work even though they are vaccinated not to mention all the other arbitrary rules enforced without rhyme or reason.

All that would have been bad enough, but now we’re seeing the return of not just hidden inflation but real headline monetary inflation. The religion of work entails participation in the consumer economy. It also entails the notion of building wealth, what is called The Australian Dream (copied from The American Dream). But neither the consumer economy nor the building of wealth works with rampant inflation. If we think of this as the Holy Trinity of the Religion of Work – employment, consumerism, building wealth – all of these are now directly under threat. No surprise then that the effect of all this is that some people no longer want to work. In seemingly every industry in Australia there are shortages of workers at the moment. Companies complain that they can’t even get people to interview for jobs.

Part of what the rebellious baby boomers were complaining about was that the esoteric content of work and leisure had already disappeared. That’s also what Jimmy Carter was talking about in his addresses to the nation in the late 70s. The religion of work has lacked esoteric content for a long time. Nevertheless, it has fulfilled the exoteric function of ordering society in the post war years. What happens if that structure breaks down? There will be practical consequences. After all, not all jobs are “non-essential”. Some jobs actually need to get done for things to continue working.

But the more interesting consequences might be cultural. If work loses its ability to provide exoteric structure to society, what will replace it? We would need something new to fill the void and that is where Spengler’s second religiosity becomes relevant. We’ll talk about that more in the next post.

All posts in this series:

The Age of The Orphan Part 1: The Path of Learning

The Age of The Orphan Part 2: Defining the Archetype

The Age of The Orphan Part 3: A Short Theoretical Introduction

The Age of The Orphan Part 4: Initiation, culture and civilisation

The Age of The Orphan Part 5: Ok, boomer

The Age of The Orphan Part 6: The Spirit of the Depths

The Age of The Orphan Part 7: The Metaphysics of Archetypes

The Age of The Orphan Part 8: The Current State of Play

The Age of The Orphan Part 9: How to learn to stop worrying and love The Matrix

The Age of The Orphan Part 10: Work is our religion

The Age of The Orphan Part 11: The Missing Link

The Age of The Orphan Part 12: Conclusion