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.