I believe I can talk about projection with some authority…
…because, being one of its leading practitioners, I’ve come to understand this mode of thought fairly well.
Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung told us that as individuals we often project the worst aspects of ourselves onto others—aspects of ourselves that we have rejected, aspects that we’ve hidden from ourselves.
But Jung also let us know that groups, communities, and nations often perform this same action. Groups, communities, and nations project their own secret hostilities, doubts, and prejudices onto other groups, communities, and nations.
We even project our neuroses onto the natural world. Troubled by our natural impulses, impulses that seem to threaten the social order, we struggle to control the natural forces of this planet and abuse its resources.
Our projections actually extend into outer space, if you consider the ideas we conjure up about extraterrestrials.
We may also project our best qualities onto others—qualities we find equally difficult to accept. But since projection of negative qualities is the more destructive force, that is what I will focus on here.
I believe that projection may have killed more people in the 20th century than greed for land and resources, or conflicting ideologies. Projection is that powerful—just think of the Jews and gypsies and homosexuals who perished in Nazi concentration camps during WWII.
I believe that to survive the 21st century we must recognize—we must fully ingest—the concept of projection.
The communion we must perform is a communion with ourselves—on an individual level, but also on a group level, on a national level, on an international level.
I believe that if this concept becomes part of our conscious thought, we will change. That may sound like a bold statement, but from my own experience, I know it to be true. I know that, having once caught yourself in the act of projecting, you can never completely ignore this habit of thought afterwards.
These days, when I encounter an unsavory figure in a dream, I know that figure is part of myself. These days, when someone’s annoying behavior gets under my skin, I ask myself what that person is showing me about myself.
If I believe that person to be arrogant, he may indeed be arrogant. But when his behavior upsets me beyond all reasonable limit, I know that he is showing me something about myself that I do not want to acknowledge, that I wish to reject…
…an aspect of myself that I therefore project onto someone else.
These aspects may even be projected unto an inanimate object, as when a former roommate told me, “This refrigerator needs to get laid!”
Mythology has a psychological function. Mythology not only reveals the conflicts of the human psyche, it can also show us how to respond to and resolve those conflicts.
Mythology also has a moral function. Mythology and religion set moral codes that govern a society.
To best meet these two requirements, our new mythology must reveal to us the conflict of projection—and hopefully, show us how best to deal with it.
Recognition of the problem is important, but recognition only solves half the problem. Again, I will speak from my own experience: the second part of the equation is even harder than the first. Once we’ve looked in the mirror, we must respond to the message—the warning—to change.
As I was thinking about projection, I wondered if the concept had been introduced by Jung, or whether he’d developed an idea already presented to us. Certainly, the giants of literature have written about projection for ages. But had our religious texts said anything about projection? Surely, the great minds of antiquity must have seen and understood the nature of projection.
Then I recalled this passage from Matthew 7:3: “And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?”
The message is clear enough, yet the message doesn’t seem to connect with us. Perhaps it needs to be restated, then sent again. Perhaps that is one of the main reasons we need a new mythology: we need to receive the same wisdom found in the old texts, but in a way that we can better ingest.