The Universal State of America Part 4: Trade Wars and Psychic Battles

Let’s begin this post with some definitions that we have already either implied or openly stated so far in this series:-

  • The collective unconscious: Jung’s term for the collection of shared mental concepts that we use to make sense of the world. Included in this are the primal archetypes of Father, Mother, Child, Ruler, Warrior, Sage etc.
  • The societal unconscious: the things which have been pushed out of the collective conscious mind. This can include things that are verboten for moral, psychological and ideological reasons and, perhaps more interestingly, those things which have not yet entered consciousness since society has not yet come to terms with them.
  • The collective consciousness: The things which society is concerned with and collectively discusses and thinks about.

To these concepts, we can add the theory, which has a level of empirical support from cognitive science and which seems intuitively correct, that the unconscious parts of the mind are deeper and stronger than the conscious parts. Moreover, it takes more “processing power” to use the conscious mind than the unconscious. Thus, we fall back to the unconscious during times of stress or when we, for some other reason, have neither the time nor energy to activate the conscious mind. As an extension of this, we can hypothesise that the societal unconscious is just the collective desire of a majority of society not to bring to consciousness certain issues which cause stress in the broadest sense of the word. This is sometimes called cognitive dissonance.

All else being equal, the larger the group involved, the more that “collective thinking” will revert to the unconscious since there is limited bandwidth available in mass communication and only the most basic and fundamental concepts are able to be communicated. Thus, the larger the audience, the more likely the communication will take the form of the broad and easy-to-process concepts of the collective unconscious i.e. the archetypes. Note that this would account for a point we made in the last post: Roman society coalesced around the Father archetype in its Empire phase as society became centralised and homogenised in the cities. We can further add as evidence for this claim that when Christianity eventually became dominant, its seat of power was the cities (the enemies of the Christians were the pagans and the word pagan comes from the Latin where it meant something like “country bumpkin”).

With these ideas, we are ready to make sense of the paradox of the United States of America, possibly the first empire in history which is pretending not to be an empire. The reason the USA is pretending it’s not an empire is because the nation was founded on the idea of rebellion from what I call the Tyrannical Father archetype. Now, we know from the above discussion that the Tyrannical Father belongs to the collective unconscious, and the collective unconscious is a more deep and stable part of the psyche. When we believe something to be true at the unconscious level, it is very hard to change that belief, and, in fact, cognitive scientists have shown that even when we consciously know something to be false, it still resonates in the unconscious since it is the upper brain which forms the negation of the underlying image which lives in the unconscious mind. That is why, for example, you can say of somebody, “he is not a paedophile,” and the statement is still dangerous because the unconscious mind forms the image of the person as a paedophile before the conscious mind negates it. (This is why politicians are told to avoid denying things, since it gives credence to the underlying idea). 

When we go back to the foundation of the United States, what we find is that the disputes were almost entirely between the American colonists and the British parliament. These were arguments over trade and taxation, and the colonists had already successfully won concessions from the British parliament by engaging in various tactics that we would now call trade wars or economic warfare. The Boston Tea Party took the whole thing to a new level because it was an act of outright commercial sabotage. The debate that happened in the British Parliament afterwards centred around the fact that the British had to respond to this escalation because it undermined the authority of Parliament (not, you will note, of the King). The retaliation was what became known as the Intolerable Acts.

Note that King George III had little to do with any of this. What was already in place in Britain was what we now take for granted, which is parliament as a kind of clearing house for the regulation and management of commercial enterprise. The East India Company had lobbied Parliament for a monopoly on the supply of tea. It got what it wanted, but the result was a market failure since the price of tea went up (which almost always happens in a monopoly) and the British public realised they could get cheaper tea from the Netherlands. The British Parliament tried to solve the market failure by dumping tea into the colonies, and the rest is history.

Thus, the American colonists were in a commercial and trade war with Britain long before the war turned military in nature. Even in the years leading up to the actual fighting, there was a covert war being fought since both the French and the Spanish supplied the American colonists. How did they do that without getting busted by the British? By setting up pretend commercial enterprises and shipping weapons to America under the cover of legitimate trade (just like America is now shipping weapons to Ukraine, although that’s happening overtly).

What’s more, even when the war of independence broke out, the battle over trade did not stop. Thus, the British occupied US ports to prevent both imports and exports from taking place. The American colonists tried to put an embargo on trade with the British on the continent, and even the French sugar plantations in the Caribbean were targeted once the French joined the war. Already, with the US war of independence, we see the origins of Total War, since war was no longer just about soldiers lining up on a field and battling it out until somebody surrendered. War now included what historian Jeremy Black later came to call Informal Empire. It was as much about sabotaging the economy of your enemy as about fighting them directly on the battlefield.

All of this belongs to the above-mentioned category of the societal unconscious i.e. the things that are not consciously understood and talked about. We know that’s true because historians needed to come up with new names for these things, like Total War and Informal Empire. But that is not how the general public understands them, and this comes back to a point about the differences between the conscious and the unconscious. Why did the general public of the United States come to see the war of independence as a rebellion against the Tyrannical Father of George III? The answer is because this was part of the trend which began with the Reformation and which was tied in with the twin archetypal Fathers of Pope and King. The archetypal meanings around the US war of independence were very largely created by Thomas Paine in his book Common Sense. This quote is highly relevant:-

“And a man hath good reason to believe that there is as much of king-craft, as priest-craft, in withholding the scripture from the public in Popish countries. For monarchy in every instance is the Popery of government.”

Paine was arguing against the divine right of kings, which, again, was the pairing of the twin archetypal Fathers of Pope and King. The Pope had already been rejected in Protestant nations, and the King was next on the chopping block. Just ask Charles I and Louis XVI.  At the level of the collective unconscious, what resonated with the general public was that the war of independence was the rejection of the Tyrannical Father and that is why King George III got blamed for a whole bunch of things that had far more to do with the operation of parliament and commercial interests that he was not directly involved in.

Now, it’s important to point out that it’s not a matter of one or the other perspective being “correct” but rather that both were true. At the archetypal level, the deeper level of the psyche, the war of independence was a rejection of the Tyrannical Father because the British had placed the archetypal Father back on the throne when Cromwell died. Thus, King George III really was the archetypal Father. Possibly, he had become even more archetypal to the extent that he was less involved in daily affairs and was therefore primarily a symbolic figure. In this respect, the American colonists were doing what the British had been unable to do, which was to throw off the Father altogether, and it’s noteworthy that all of continental Europe and even Russia and China in the early 20th century would eventually throw off the Father either symbolically or in reality. Just ask Nicholas II and Puyi.

Therefore, the founding myth of the US is “true” at the archetypal level, which is where myth is true. And this is where the feedback loops between the unconscious and conscious minds and the “real world” get interesting. We have to remember that the US was founded with the historical consciousness of Faustian civilisation. The founding fathers were very well aware, like most European intellectuals, that history showed that civilisations end up in tyranny, and that following the tyranny the civilisation tends to collapse. That is what the historical record shows. Thus, at a conscious level in the minds of the intellectuals of the time, Europe was already heading back down a pathway to tyranny, which signified, for them, the end stages of civilisation. Ironically, this had actually been enabled by the Reformation which allowed the kings of northern Europe to disintermediate the Catholic Church and make the state far more dominant than it ever had been.

In any case, the US was founded on the assumption that the great threat was the Tyrannical Father, not just because he is bad in himself but because the arrival of the tyrant signals the end of civilisation. Out of this comes the idea of American exceptionalism and this is present even in Thomas Paine who saw the US as a new start for humanity. Thus, the collective consciousness around the formation of the US was predicated on the historical consciousness of European civilisation and the desire to avoid the fate which history seemed to have prescribed for Europe i.e. tyranny leading to downfall.

We can see, therefore, that there is a match between the unconscious and conscious minds in this respect. At the collective unconscious level is the Tyrannical Father. At the conscious level is the understanding that tyrants destroy civilisation, which is borne out by the historical record. Selling the idea to the public that George III was responsible made sense.

But perhaps the crucial discordance that was at play and is still at play in our day was the attitude to trade and commerce that prevailed among the American colonists. Again, we can use Thomas Paine in this respect, since he was a populist who captured the general mood. The idea was that trade meant freedom from tyranny. Thus, in the conscious mind, trade was a way to escape from the exercise of political dominance. The problem with that is the one we have already discussed: the European powers and the American colonists had already started to weaponise trade to achieve political outcomes. The new paradigm which was forming was trade war, which later evolved into financial war. Trade war became the main game, with military hostilities reserved as a last resort. Thus, to say it again, the US war of independence was a trade war long before it was a military one. In the foundation of the United States was the paradigm that has become dominant in our time. Trade and politics were already synonymous.

But all of this still makes sense because the ascendance of trade was predicated on the rebellion against the Tyrannical Father. The merchant class emerged as the dominant force in direct proportion as the Pope and King were pushed aside. The United States was founded by merchants who saw their rebellion as being against King George III. It’s quite likely that many of them really believed that and were simply unaware (unconscious) that trade could be weaponised for political purposes. Using our earlier terminology, we say that the weaponization of trade and commerce had been relegated to the societal unconscious.

And the truly strange part is that it is still there. At the time of writing, the US is in a trade war with Russia, Iran and probably a number of other countries that we don’t know about. Its imperial power is predicated on control of the international financial system. The deep state is currently trying to take out a presidential candidate using the exact tactics of commercial, financial, and legal sabotage that have been the cornerstone of Informal Empire right from the beginning of the United States. All of this belongs to the societal unconscious. Any discussion of it is quickly covered over with propaganda, and propaganda is always an appeal to the Unconscious mind.

And this leads to a final point, which is implied by Jung’s idea of individuation. Perhaps the way civilisation works is something like this. Over time, we add to our stock of concepts in the Unconscious. These are all the things that are deep and solid. By definition, they must have existed for a long time before they condense into the bedrock of the psyche. Things that are “new”, like Total War and Informal Empire, have not yet had enough time to become part of the unconscious mind. We can process them consciously, but that takes a lot of mental effort and the truth is, the contents of the conscious mind are always flimsy and unstable relative to the Unconscious. Moreover, the attempt to process these things consciously is bound to fail since public discourse cannot handle the bandwidth required for such a discussion. Only over extended periods of time, with much repetition and a shared experience on the part of a large proportion of the population, can something become dense and solid enough to take up a place in the Unconscious. We’re not there yet.

10 thoughts on “The Universal State of America Part 4: Trade Wars and Psychic Battles”

  1. Hi Simon,

    Out of curiosity, I’d wondered if you’d had any insights in relation to the possibility of a: Shadow Tyrant?

    Man, I’ve been working like a dog this week, and plan to get to your essay tomorrow and will drop you a comment then. Rain is in the forecast…



  2. Chris – the tyrant is already a shadow form. I call it the Tyrannical Father archetype. It’s the same dynamic as between Mother and Devouring Mother.

    Yeah, I hope the rain actually arrives this time. We’ve had basically no rain for more than two months.

  3. I think there was something genuinely unique about the Massachusetts Bay Colony compared to almost every other British colony that singled it out as the rebellious child. It was unlike other colonies in that it administered itself from Boston rather than London, was a joint stock company from the start (a corporation) and was ruled as a Puritan Theocracy where only Puritans could vote.

    It almost revolted in the 1600’s until it was put down and integrated with the rest of New England, with far more control by the home country authorities. I think the only thing that prevented insurrection taking off earlier were the French and Indian wars that enabled the UK to rally the colonists against a common enemy, and as soon as these finished it was back to telling parliament to get lost.

    It’s stark how different this colonial pattern was to Australia.

  4. Skip – true. Yet it’s one of those interesting cases where as soon as it happened it instantly become widespread, which is indicative of some deeper forces at play. Almost all South American nations declared “independence” in the first half of the 19th century, for example.

    It’s an interesting question about the Australia comparison. I’d never thought about it before, but, if memory serves me correct only West and South Australia were founded by corporations and both all-but-failed pretty quickly, which makes sense if you consider the climate and terrain. I suspect also that Australia was founded not by true believer protestants or puritans but mostly by those who were just keeping up appearances.

  5. Yeah I suppose the difference I see between the 13 colonies and Latin America is that the latter went for independence when the home empire was well and truly in decline and toothless (similar to India and British Empire); Spain had even been taken by Napoleon. The USA cast off the UK before the British Empire had even reached its zenith.

    And yeah Australia was settled by people who had lost a lot of the religion and cultural depth as Europe entered civilisation and many were urban and out for nothing but wealth, with the added bonus of convicts who didn’t want to be there in the first place. Very different to a bunch of religious fanatics searching for a place to build their paradise on earth.

  6. Skip – one way to think about it is that it was the original spirit of the protestants but without the kings of Europe holding them back, which is why I think it is in most respects the full flowering of protestantism, whereas even the British couldn’t quite shake the need for a Father figure.

  7. Hi Simon,

    I hadn’t been aware of the origins of the word pagan. A few years ago someone remarked to me that ‘people living in the country are stupid’. It was all said in matter of fact authoritative manner, except I was left wondering what the person had just said, and so asked that very question clarifying the observation. It’s a bit weird to say to me given I actually live in the country. Interestingly the person was not one for their own thoughts, so I presumed that the lady had learned the thought from somewhere else, and then regurgitated it from the darker corners of her subconscious mind. Dude, that moment was so weird, and I couldn’t detect any maliciousness in the observation, despite the content. Projecting the shadow perhaps?

    Perhaps for the people who direct the gentle art of war these days, attacking trade was always a bigger blow, than two armies battling it out over some distant locale? It is of interest to me that other nations are now engaged in a tug of war with the US over these very sorts of issues, which you also noted. I’d suggest that many of these weak spots are known about in other countries.

    You’re probably right about us not being there yet with that integration of the newer concepts.

    The thing is, I tend to believe that having the perils of a path lay unacknowledged, does not preclude the risks inherent in treading upon that path. In fact, not acknowledging possible risks like failure, kind of breeds a certain recklessness in the decision making processes. Dunno, but it’s possible we’ll find out how all this works in due course.



  8. Chris – that’s why I like the idea of life as a hero’s journey in the technical sense which Joseph Campbell used: a confrontation with the Unconscious. Because we’re are dealing with the unconscious and the unknown, there are inherent risks in the process. Those are unavoidable, so it’s not a matter of doing without risk but of mitigating it. Since we all have different tolerance for risk, one person’s judgement of recklessness is another person’s judgement of being too conservative.

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