Trump is a Symptom of a Larger Psycho-Spiritual Crisis
By ROB ABBOTT, Special to the Globe and Mail
It has become popular to speak of “The Age of Trump”, and while I identify with the sentiment, this catchphrase misses the larger point. Namely, modern western culture has been racing toward a rendezvous with a psycho-spiritual crisis that is much bigger than the election of Trump.
The post-WWII economic boom was built on feet of clay – cheap oil facilitated the creation of suburbia, and with it, the ennui that comes with living in the “geography of nowhere” as James Kunstler trenchantly put it. But the crisis of which I speak has deeper roots than the failures of the suburbs. The pervasive consumer culture that emerged in the second half of the 20th century, and which has accelerated since 2000, is typified by individualism, materialism, hyper-competition, greed, over-complication, overwork, hurriedness and debt. Individually, these are bad enough, but viewed as a collective they seriously undermine psychological health and social wellbeing. It should come as little surprise then, that the levels of intimacy, trust and friendship in people’s lives have plummeted. Against this backdrop of little substance and depth, seemingly adrift from themselves as well as others, people feel fragmented and dispirited.
Conventional wisdom would have it that such people are depressed, but this too misses the mark. While depression is an undeniably serious issue – the average age for the first onset of depression is now 14 – the terror that grips far too many people needs to be understood differently. Anti-depressant drugs have a paltry 28-per cent success rate in large part because the majority of people with a diagnosis of depression are actually suffering from something else – demoralization, a condition unresponsive to drugs.
Historically, demoralization was ascribed to very specific situations, such as terminal illness or survival in prisoner-of-war camps, but there is also a cultural variety that can express itself under the kinds of conditions we have created today. It manifests as a psycho-spiritual crisis in which seemingly “normal” people begin to question the assumptions undergirding our existence and our actions. As these assumptions unravel, it becomes difficult to identify with the values, goals and aspirations of society – particularly the allegiance to consumerism. The consequent feeling of being forsaken and/or on the wrong life track is commonly seen to be depression, but is in fact a form of demoralization that affects more and more people in western culture.
So, how to move forward and address this crisis in a meaningful way? Writing at the height of World War I, Carl Jung observed: “The great problems of humanity were never yet solved by general laws, but only through regeneration of the attitudes of individuals. If ever there was a time when self-reflection was the absolutely necessary and only right thing, it is now, in our present catastrophic epoch”. The grace and power of those words rings true all these years later. If we are to forge a future in which the political process, economics, work, notions of family, and the environment are meaningfully addressed we must undertake what is sometimes called “inner work”. Not to be confused with meditation, therapy, or the cult of bliss-ology, this work is an exploration where deeper life purpose and meaning can take place – a soul discovery process leading to increased awareness of personal qualities, abilities and gifts.
It is clear that in the face of our current psycho-spiritual crisis we need a conscious shift in the relationship of humans to each other and to the rest of the Earth Community. To achieve this, we must dramatically increase the number of people who have tended to their inner work, who have looked beneath their personality and connected with their unique soul gifts that they might bring to the work ahead. Only then can we stem the tide that has given rise to the Era of Trump.
Rob Abbott is the Co-Founder (with Jessica Rosin) of Soul Quest Canada (soulquestcanada.ca).