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Election Day and the American Archetypal Manifestation of Individualism

As our American founding fathers once wrote about the importance of a government made up of individuals bound by a social contract:

“When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.” –Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776

I’ve been thinking about the significance of election day for a while. There is always a lot of individualistic lip service connected to election day, but this election seems to have been particularly full of individualist rhetoric. So, what does it mean, mythically, to be an individual with the right to vote?…to have the freedom to make a choice?…to have a right to speak one’s into the government? and to be a one individual piece in a system that makes up a whole nation?

Fuzz, Fuzz, Fuzz

First, let’s not forget that the entire concept of what it means to be an individual, and to have individual choice is what C.G. Jung called an archetype.

Jung defines archetypes, or the Imago Dei, in terms of the concept of the Platonic ideals or forms. In Volume 9 of the Collected Works of C.G. Jung (Archetypes Of Collective Unconsious), he writes of the term archetype:

“For our purposes this term is apposite and helpful, because it tells us that so far as the collective unconscious contents are concerned we are dealing with archaic or- I would say- primordial types, that is, with universal images that have existed since the remotest times.” Archetypes house the soul’s energy. And, there is a energy in the soul of humanity that calls to have its individual voice to be heard. The way that archetypal energy is played out in culture becomes the mythic/archetypal manifestation of that energy. All of these archetypal manifestations together make up a mythology…a mythic identity.

Many, MANY different archetypal images come together to shape these mythic identities, some more powerful and influential than others, and one might argue that this archetypal image of individualism is the definining aspect of America’s ideological identity. Who one votes for in terms of the office of the presidency has become the ultimate expression of American individualism.

I’m really not going to go into what these candidates/parties represent, as that is up for debate. I will say that Americans often grouse that elections change nothing, which in essence means that many Americans believe that their individual voice counts for nothing. This morning, at the pinnacle of America’s sacred moment of election, I heard someone say that either way, whoever wins, this will be a rough four years. This person truly believed that it doesn’t matter who wins the election, that one is as good as the next. Many Americans are convinced that their vote doesn’t count (either due to the electoral college or due to simple disinterest), or that the winning candidate (whoever that may be) does not represent them and therefore cannot speak for them–valid arguements, although perhaps short-sighted. It often makes us feel powerless, hopeless, and anxious.

Take heart! Candidates are not themselves the solutions Americans wish them to be. They are images upon which Americans project their mythic ideals. Sure, they may spend their time in office doing good work for America, but in reality it is not simply that good work that makes them elect-able, it is their ability to embody the ideals of the collective individual American.

The fusion of these ideals and a sense of individualism becomes tricky because we often forget that the key to the experience of archetypal individualism as practiced in America lies in the paradox that in order to be free, to have the individual’s voice heard, one must relinquish the right to exercise that freedom 100% of the time. It is paradox, and it is irony–truth that comes from the combination of two contradictions–that humanity is most free when limitations call for the balance of that individual freedom in service to the good of all. That is what makes our elections choices so complicated, and our choices often counter-intuitive. And in that context, it is, perhaps, the elction itself that makes us free, and not necessarily the results of it.

All this to say:

Please go vote! It is more than your civic duty, its the ultimate expression of your individualism! In doing so, you participate in the penultimate American archetypal experience.


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Filed under Depth Psychology, Myth