The flare-up of the abortion debate, along with the right wing's renewed attempts to curb freedom of choice, shows that America is not only in an economic recession but also in a psychological regression. Right-wing politicians are scrambling to make regression the new law of land.
Social progress is the advance of freedom, as in women's liberation and the civil-rights struggle. But people who are prisoners of their brand of fundamentalism hate freedom, particularly inner freedom. Behind closed minds, they peer through their cell windows, viewing with fury the peace and harmony of free people strolling in the park.
They're prisoners of their own mind because their weak sense of self requires them to lean on belief systems or on dreams of fortune, glory, sanctity, and superiority. Their emotional dependence on superficial values imposes on them a judgmental and rigid view of the world.
George W. Bush was right, in part, when he said the terrorists hate us because of our freedoms. He would know about hating freedom. The modern GOP hates the pro-choice option because it represents that greatest freedom, the belief and trust in our own authority and wisdom.
The extreme right wing, energized by America's convulsions, is emotionally aligned with the idea of external authority as a prerogative of the elite, a modern "divine right of kings." This alignment reflects their unconscious recognition of the inner critic or superego as master of the personality. Our inner critic is a primitive, irrational part in us that poses as our legitimate inner authority. Through inner weakness and psychological ignorance, many of us swing back and forth between an emotional alignment with the will of the inner critic and, its opposite number, the self-doubt of our defensive inner passivity. Consequently, widespread passivity in the population becomes an impediment to democracy, as many of us, on an outer level, live in childish trust of our leaders or struggle quietly under the thumb of dysfunctional institutions and alliances that treat us like children.
The Catholic Church rules by this mentality. While its dogma condemns abortion, it overlooks the wisdom of one of its greatest monks, Thomas Merton, author of the 1940s best-seller, The Seven Story Mountain, who wrote from his monastery in Kentucky that our highest purpose is to find our own true self and to trust that self to guide us forward. In Love and Living, he wrote:
The deepest spiritual instinct in man is that urge of inner truth which demands that he be faithful to himself: to his deepest and most original potentialities. Yet at the same time, in order to become oneself, one must die. That is to say, in order to become one's true self, the false self must die. In order for the inner self to appear, the outer self must disappear; or at least become secondary, unimportant.
The right wing in American politics represents the psychological resistance we all have to letting go of the old or false self. The closer we approach renewal or reformation of our society, the greater the panic among those who fear letting go of their yearning for the past, their rigid sense of separation, and their need to feel in control. Ultimately, they fear change because they fear their better selves. Understanding this, we can try ourselves to be less hostile to the Right by not taking personally its reluctant, recalcitrant role in the new consciousness that's struggling to emerge.
We can see a similar clinging to the false self among those rich people who, in egotistic extremism, can feel their "privilege" and "superiority" more acutely and with more perverse gratification when plenty of poor people abound for the purpose of comparison. Merton had words for these elitists, too: "When a man attempts to live by and for himself alone, he becomes a little "island' of hate, greed, suspicion, fear, desire."
Inner freedom is attained by resolving inner conflict and letting go of an affinity for negative perceptions. We arrive at our own truth. However, we can't feel a connection to such truth when we're lacking in inner authority and buffeted in our psyche by aggressive and passive instincts and drives. In our mind, the abortion decision and other crucial decisions become a question of: "Do I dare believe in myself and trust my own judgment and wisdom, or do I let others tell me what to believe and to do?" Lacking insight, we let the voices of our inner conflict argue about what we should believe and what we should do. And we tilt in favor of the most passionate, righteous voice.
When we decline the invitation to acquire more inner freedom, we develop an instinct to repress the freedom of others. Over the centuries, men have very much enjoyed the repression of women. They've relished the primitive gratification of feeling dominant and superior. Many men throughout the world still cling to that perverse gratification. The backwardness and sterility of any culture are assured when women are repressed.
Now, fundamentalists of all stripes, the least conscious among us, are in panic mode. Forces of liberation require them, as Merton wrote, to die to the old self. That's the soul-searching process that many ex-racists underwent during and after the civil-rights struggle. If they fail to make that upgrade, they'll continue to cling to the old self, becoming more desperate, incoherent, and mean-spirited.
The fundamentalist-driven GOP also suffers from the self-centered hurt of seeing their precious beliefs being mocked and ridiculed. On the abortion issue, they tend to identify with the fetus as a "person" who isn't wanted or valued. These painful feelings correspond with unresolved hurt in their own psyche, giving them a highly subjective perspective on the abortion issue. They also have a psychological desire, as a coping mechanism, to feel superior, in this case, "morally superior" through their righteous stance on abortion.Deep psychological insight (in very short supply in our media) can go a long way toward resolving the culture wars. If people on the Left can give this knowledge more traction, even the most resistant partisans of the Right will succumb to its influence.