It is difficult to overstate the dangers when society begins to divide itself along tribal lines. This problem is manifesting in New Zealand to a marked and accelerating degree, and shows no sign of abating. Every statistic is broken down by ethnicity, tribe is broken down by iwi, and iwi by hapu. While tribalism seems to be exponentially impacting almost everything in modern New Zealand, it has been a long time coming, and its ultimate results could cost us much of what we value.
As a practising psychotherapist, I am often fascinated by the parallels between the thought processes of the clients I counsel, and what I see emerging on a wider societal level. It is hardly surprising that people should reflect, in their own lives and thinking, the struggles of the wider societies within which they are located. But I have become convinced that it works the other way too. Not only are we shaped by society, we shape society in return, it is very much a two-way street. Our conflicts have internal and external strands embedded in them, and these dance together in complex ways.
When we encounter inner conflicts (and disappointments) this can lead to deep and often painful introspection. We have to do something because our conflicts hurt us, they damage our relationships, and undermine our potential. Because we are pain minimizers by nature, we prefer to see these problems as derivative of things outside of us, this is much easier than looking inward. We deny and repress our conflicts, we intellectualize them, we displace them with something else, we become super busy, so that we don't think about them, or we project these conflicts onto others. Freud called this ego defence.
Projection gives us license to see in others, that which we cannot bear to see in ourselves. Interestingly, we also project the sins of our fathers onto others, of our family onto others, of our religion onto others, and of our race onto others. In effect, we point our finger, and award ourselves a get-out-of-jail-free card at the same time, at least for a time. These processes have been well recognized and thoroughly documented in depth psychology for over a hundred years, and were evident in the beliefs of ancient religions long before that. History is replete with our propensity to scapegoat. Our scapegoats enable us to keep doing what we are doing, and thinking what we are thinking, without ever tidying up our own backyards.
Thus projection is what we do, usually without knowing it. It covers our own shortcomings, but usually only for a time. What is interesting is that projection can also occur on a mass scale, and this is when it can become especially dangerous. This is when whole groups opt to lay all of their ills at the feet of other groups, protestants at the feet of Catholics, atheists at the feet of Christians, eastern nations at the feet of western nations, socialists at the feet of capitalists, liberals at the feet of conservatives, urban at the feet of rural, intellectuals at the feet of the middle class, those who have not at the feet of those who have, indigenous people at the feet of colonizers etc. etc. This is done with conviction and blind fervour, and we have plenty of similarly minded people to cheer us along, and psychologically stroke our egos. Tribalism provides the perfect opportunity to feel better by demonizing others. A complex problem becomes simple, singular causality is the order of the day, and we have dodged the bullet.
Now, this is NOT to say that the things outside of us don't sometimes need sorting, that bad things do not happen to good people, or that we do not struggle against injustice. It is just to say that our preference, in the first instance, and usually quite unconsciously, is to lay the blame elsewhere, it's just the way our psyche works. We select facts that fit the narrative, and reject those that do not. In the words of Alfred Adler, we perpetually lie to ourselves, and if enough of us do this together, we create what Carl Jung described as a mass psychosis. In his reflections on Nazi Germany Jung commented as follows.
“The phenomenon we have witnessed in Germany was nothing less than [an] outbreak of epidemic insanity. . . No one knew what was happening to him, least of all of the Germans, who allowed themselves to be driven to the slaughterhouse by their leading psychopaths like hypnotized sheep.” - Carl Jung, After the Catastrophe
“Crimes the individual alone could never stand are freely committed by the group [smitten by madness].” - Carl Jung, The Symbolic Life
So how is this relevant to what we are seeing in New Zealand today?
History contains many examples of leaders who have advanced their causes through division. Prior to the emergence of constitutional government and universal suffrage, this was generally the way things were done. In more recent times, the left, by infiltrating the media and academia, has made an art form of this. And those who speak words of division, have a burgeoning audience of those who have decided (and have been helped to decide) that any burden of personal responsibility and change, is just too great to bear. The left has conveniently, and nonsensically, divided humanity into oppressor and oppressed classes, and then the oppressed class into an almost unlimited number of oppressed sub-groups. If you are especially unlucky you qualify as oppressed on multiple grounds simultaneously (something called intersectionality).
The comparative successes of capitalism (notwithstanding its imperfections), and the growth of the middle class, has forced the left to find new "enemies", be they white, male, middle class, conservative, rural ... Each is apportioned a dollop of responsibility for the ailments of others and these ailments are laid exclusively at their feet.
While projection is an unconscious action, by and large, the left is well aware of what it is doing, in fact this is its strategy. If you can divide, and get it right, you will rule. The current pervasive and never-ending divisions of our population on the basis of ethnicity, as if nothing else mattered, giving loud voice to one group, and no voice to the other, constructing selective narratives of past and present, applying villainy and virtue, as if these were mutually exclusive domains of being, provides rich opportunities for leverage.
By its very nature tribalism contains the seeds of its own destruction. Once one "enemy" is dispensed with, another needs to be found, because that's how projection works. Division continues unabated until there is literally no-one left to blame, and society has divested itself of everything of value.
I once had the pleasure of regular visits by an elderly kaumatua. He would inspire me with his knowledge of his iwi, his grip on Te Reo, his knowledge of the bush etc. It was truly an honour and a privilege to spend time with him. One day I decided to ask him a question. I asked him what would happen if all non -Maori left New Zealand tomorrow. He paused for a moment, looked at me, and said "Our tribes would start fighting one another".
Borrowing the words of Carl Jung, you might say that New Zealand is being swept away by an outbreak of insanity, entirely unaware of where this could lead us. We have traded the Judeo- Christian imperative of personal responsibility, for a dumbed-down collectivism, which has the potential to sweep away everything of value, and return us to the very dark age from which all of our ancestors emerged, and which, most scarily of all, still resides deep within the hearts of each one of us.
If we forget where we have come from, most certainly we will return there, and we might not like what we find. The west is facing multiple crises, but the real crisis the west faces is the absence of responsibility.
Caleb Anderson, a graduate history, economics, psychotherapy and theology, has been an educator for over thirty years, twenty as a school principal.