Monday, October 8, 2007

The Angel Hovering Over the Iraq War

What does the topic of Angels have to do with the Iraq War?

A great deal more than one might think.

In the first book of the Angel Mysteries series, I discussed at length the idea that Angels are best understood as a symbol for the set of precedents that hover and prevail over a particular situation. Angels, with their fascinating lore and legend, are elegant images, in need of translation into comprehensible prose, that portray the ferociously important idea that there are “givens” in life that precede us. Whenever we enter into a new situation, or approach a new territory, a set of facts and circumstances precedes us.

A handy term for such a set of prevailing precedents is an “Operating System,” i.e. the principles that “run” an operation and make it go through its hoops. There are man-made Operating Systems, think of the Operating System (or Angel) that runs a Computer or a Conference in a hotel, and there are also natural Operating Systems, think of the Operating System (or Angel) that lies behind the Hydrologic Cycle or the disease we call Diabetes. And there are hybrids.

These ideas come to us from the work of the pioneering Jungian psychologist, Dr. Yoram Kaufmann. He makes the point that those who want to thrive in a territory must take into account its Angel, i.e. its set of prevailing precedents.

The connection to the Iraq War begins with the fact that there can be absolutely no doubt that such an existing set of precedents was operating prior to the American intervention in Iraq. This set included the long-standing Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish enmities and the makeshift history of the creation of the state of Iraq.

There can also be no doubt that we ignored the operating conditions in Iraq. In the language of the ancients we ignored the Angel hovering over the territory. The ancient lore tells us that Angels hold up flaming swords and bar entry into a territory for those who ignore their presence.

As a third certainty, there is no doubt that there are moments in life when overturning precedents is very much in order. Sometimes we have to create something entirely new in life.

If we wanted to create something new in Iraq, the single most important thing we could have done is take into account all the highly specific dimensions of the existing Operating System in that country.

Who knows what we might have accomplished, if we had respected the givens of the situation? But that was not to be. Instead, we have met, and are meeting now, in the Iraq situation all the consequences of having ignored the Angel hovering over the situation. What would those “givens” have told us?

In the following chapters I will discuss three of those dimensions (“Angel”) we needed to respect. Then in subsequent posts I will address the problem of how the Angel of Renewal hovers over both Iraq and the US.

The Angel of Artificial Unity.

How things begin is certainly a crucial element of an operating system.

The modern state of Iraq was created in such a fashion that artificiality hovered over it as a major dimension of its “Angelic operating system.”

The Hashemite monarchy was imposed by the British who took no account of the ethnic and religious differences within the geographical boundaries of what had been part of the Ottoman Empire. Shiites and Kurds opposed the British occupation, desiring independence. These difficulties were put down by the British, in an invasion of Iraq known as the Anglo-Iraq War, an invasion that preceded the American invasion by more than half a century. But none of the difficulties were resolved! Instead they hovered over the state of Iraq, in a state of suspended but very real animation, as an Angel of Artificial Unity. Prior to the American invasion, all of these facts were well-known, not in dispute, and easily learned. But none of the American decision-makers were able to take into account this Angel. Why?

It’s far too simple to attribute this large scale failure to personal characteristics of our American leaders such as “stubbornness” or “willful ignorance.” Equally, it’s too simple to attribute the failure to a lack of “foreign policy experience.” Both played a role, without question.

The more shocking and troubling perspective is that the Iraq invasion could not have happened if it was not for the fact that an Angel of Artificial Unity prevails at home, in American political and cultural life. This is what we have not faced about ourselves. In fact we have a great fear that refuses to allow us to recognize its seriousness. At this time, America is two countries, with fundamentally different values, fundamentally different viewpoints. One side of our country is enraged at the other.

If we had genuine unity in our country, we would not have stumbled into Iraq. Only with such a division at home could the conditions of our own country, unseen and unacknowledged, lead to the attempt to resolve our problem of Artificial Unity, in Iraq, a land far away.[1] American unity is something we have taken for granted, to our detriment.

How does this unfortunate linkage come about, i.e. how does a lack of unity in America result in our ill-advised intervention in Iraq? (The term “war” is inappropriate for the situation, essentially we are involved not in an Iraq war but an Iraq occupation.)

Here is how the Swiss psychologist C.G. Jung addresses this issue for the individual:

“The psychological rule says that when an inner situation is not made conscious, it happens outside as fate. That is to say, when the individual remains undivided and does not become conscious of his inner opposite, the world must perforce act out the conflict and be torn into opposing halves.”[2]

We ordinarily think that the ideal state is for an individual to remain undivided. That is true. But Jung is addressing a different situation, one in which problematic inner conflicts are already present but ignored. It’s the individual who remains blithely unaware of very real powerful inner conflicts who meets up with wrenching conflict on the outside.

For example, we all are familiar with the man who carries within him an image of authority figures as hostile and irrational. Everyone can see all too clearly how he precipitates conflicts over and again with his bosses. As a result, he gets fired or demoted, and moves from job to job, and tragically never fulfills the potential of his talents.

Yet he has an undivided view of himself, and experiences no conflict with himself or within himself, only with others. Just as long and only as long as the “problem” has its origins outside of him, he remains undivided. It is the acting out of his unacknowledged inner conflict that tears the world into “opposing halves.”

The same can and must be said of the United States as a whole, as a country. When the country does not become conscious of a strong inner division, when each side does not become conscious that the other represents an opposite that must be accounted for, then the conflict gets acted out and becomes fateful, i.e. unchangeable.

This psychological rule, as Jung calls it, this principle of how fateful conflicts are precipitated, would have been called an Angel in ancient times. It is part of the Operating System of how things work in an individual and in International Relations. When we ignored the context and the givens in Iraq, we flouted the authority of this Angel as well. As a result, we are not currently able to fulfill our potential for good in the world.

The Angel of Primitivity

In the previous chapter, I introduced the idea that the Angel of Artificial Unity hovered over the situation in Iraq, as we found it when the US invaded in 2003. What could have led us to ignore such an important set of facts and precedents? We need to meet the Angel of Primitivity.

In Angel lore, there are Archangels who rule over subordinate Angels, who may be subordinate but nevertheless represent very important principles and elements of the givens of a situation. Thus the Angel of Precipitation and the Angel of Condensation are subordinate Angels, however important, to the more comprehensive Archangel of the overall Hydrologic Cycle.

A hydrologic engineer who fails to take into account these subordinate Angels will create a primitive system. What is a primitive system or a primitive response? Here are some synonyms for primitive: crude, archaic, undeveloped, preliterate, at the lowest level of detail, retaining ancestral characteristics.

In sum, a primitive response is one that is undifferentiated, i.e. fails to account for the many Operating Principles and Operating Elements of an Operating System. That makes it crude and undeveloped.

The situation among Iraqis themselves, and equally on the side of America, is one in which the adjustment to the prevailing conditions, to the Angel hovering over the current conditions, is above all else, primitive. As far we can tell, in Iraq there is only a tiny elite who has the capacity to register how primitive are the ancient hatreds, how primitive are the bombings and retaliations and the spiral of terrible violence.

In America, there is a growing recognition of the depth of the primitive nature of the conflict—over there. There is a growing recognition that our current leaders lack the ability to register the importance of the element of primitivity, because they themselves have a crude and undifferentiated response (“you’re either with us or against us”).

The next and conclusive step is for us in America to examine where an Angel of Primitivity hovers over our own American enterprise. Americans are unable to see their own naivete, black and white dualism, foreign misadventures and hegemonism, and profoundly violent domestic situation—qualities and facts that Europeans are only too glad to point out to Americans—while also maintaining a grip on what is good about America. Somehow it has become essentially American to fear that acknowledging the faults of America will undermine its basic enterprise. A differentiated viewpoint, as opposed to a primitive viewpoint, is that the wonderful dimensions of America will not collapse from examining its limitations. At this point it seems that this fear is a primitive fear: archaic, undeveloped, and ancestral. The consequences of being stuck in our primitivity seem remote to us, as remote as being “stuck” in Iraq.

The Angel of Intractability.

In the two previous chapters on the topic of Angels Hovering Over The War In Iraq, we met the Angel of Artificial Unity and the Angel of Primitivity. In this third chapter we meet an Angel who bars entry to a workable solution, an Angel who keeps us “stuck” in a no-win “operating system.”

The first thing this Angel has to tell us is that being “stuck” has a deep meaning.

In Book Three of the Angel Mysteries series, I show a picture of the ancient Greek Goddess Nemesis, who personified divine retribution. She ruthlessly dished out a comeuppance to those who deserved it; her name means to “give what is due.” Originally she was seen as the goddess who distributed both good and bad fortune simply on the basis of what was merited; depending on what was called for, she could be kind or implacable. Only later did she become associated primarily with drastic punishment for those who had transgressed.

Interestingly, she was a being who had wings like an Angel.

What Nemesis has brought to us in Iraq is the Angel of Intractability. What we are faced with now is essentially the task of coming to terms with our primitive response. As a rule, overcoming a primitive response takes an enormous amount of work, as well as time, and favorable conditions. Colin Powell’s famous reminder to President Bush about the Pottery Barn rules (“If you break it, you own it”) carries with it a need to think through what will be consequences of owning something that is broken into many pieces.

Pots can be repaired but not if important pieces have shattered into dust. Then overcoming the problem is not a possibility. The only recourse is to deal with what has been broken—pay the price.

The Angel of Intractability now tells us that we are “stuck” in Iraq without a solution. Our primitive response has left us with no capacity to repair what was broken. The long paying down of the bill is what stretches out before us.

But that is not the final word. There is also an Angel of Meaning who hovers over our Iraq disaster. The operating system of the Angel of Meaning “tells” us that from the meaning of being “stuck” we can draw new resolve to identify our own divisions and lack of unity, to overcome our primitive responses to difficult domestic and world situations, and to grapple with what seems to be intractable in us, such as our fear of the “given” facts. If we encounter, discuss, and examine these issues, we will have at least salvaged the meaning and learning from Iraq, and we will have changed our relationship for the better to the Angel that hovers over the American enterprise.

For more information on Angels as Operating Systems, see Books One, Two and Three of the Angel Mysteries series at

Dr. Yoram Kaufmann’s article on Angels appears in Psyche’s Banquet, published by Assisi Foundation Books, PO Box 6033 Brattleboro, Vermont 05302. Interested readers should consider purchasing his seminal work, The Way of the Image, the Orientational Approach to the Psyche. This work is also published by the Assisi Foundation.

[1] As an aside, it is very tempting to try to enumerate the differences that separate the Sunni and Shiite and draw the uncanny parallels with the differences that separate the red states and the blue states in the USA. For example, the Shiites have a provision for mutah, a fixed-term temporary marriage, which is rejected by the Sunni. It may be that our last presidential election hinged on the wide gap in how marriage is valued in our two American cultures.

Even the reversal of ruler and ruled, with the dominance of a Sunni majority in a land populated with a majority of Shiites, has a mirror in the dominance of the Republican party in political life in America, where the population by a large majority identifies itself as Democrats.

[2] (Volume 9 of the Collected Works. P. 71, paragraph 126)