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Reply To: Tossing the Golden Ball,” with mythologist Catherine Svehla, Ph.D.”


    Thank you so much for looking my addendum over first before posting because I now have a chance to clarify a bit what I’m attempting to address. I don’t want to wander too far off topic but there are a number of male issues that have now within “modern times” become: (at least in my view); very difficult in the maturation of male identity that simply don’t function as effectively as they once did because the models don’t work as well; (and sometimes even against each other); as models.

    There is a running popularity pole about the best father role model that people hold as the gold standard to emulate, and for years “Atticus Finch” via Gregory Peck in: “To Kill a Mockingbird”; is almost always at the top of the list; not some rough and tumble figure whose character traits are that of taking out bad guys by beating them up; and this movie in fact depicts seeing through a very different kind of lens of what being a grownup actually represents.

    In the “Power of Myth” Joseph addresses this problem by explaining you can see what is happening by the news reports of youth crime and violence being committed by young males who haven’t been socialized properly because the myths are no longer serving this need; Moyers asked: “Do we need a new myth?” And Joseph’s answer was, it’s probably not going to come in the near future because things are changing too fast for anything to constellate. Modern advances in technology and the borders which once separated countries and cultures that contain all the old religions and myths are out of date for the times which we are living in and are dissolving and no longer serve the proper functions in a realistic sense that they were designed for; (namely that of bringing or nurturing an individual through the various life stages from birth to death to live a civilized and successful life). So, we are thrown back on ourselves and now left to our own devices. We must find our own way and construct or cut our way through the dark forest and find our own path forward. We don’t know what we are doing; and that is part of our dilemma and part of the mission or process. We can no longer rely on social roles and mythic structures that no longer fit the needs for which they were originally intended. We are lost and groping which leads me back to the topic of the modern male psyche.

    In a separate piece, which was an interview Joseph gave for Parabola magazine in 1975 which I can’t quote because of copywrite issues); he called the world we now live in an: “airport society”; because you can fly anywhere in the world in practically a day; and that cultures are now spread out all over the place and the only way to make the myths work is to use them metaphorically. So when someone says myth is a lie; some people think they are saying myths are not real. And the idea of having a personal myth instead of a “personal God” is blasphemy.

    Now I don’t want to try and oversimplify this; but we are not living in a time when you had to go out and kill your food to eat something; you go to the grocery store or some fast-food place to get it. But male behavior role models have not quite made the entire historical or societal jump so we have all kinds of laws, police, and military to enforce them to make sure everyone behaves properly. And you could use the term: “Chivalry” as a code of conduct when talking about manners and being a “Knight in Shinning Armour”; but Don Quixote addressed that concern if used as a model within a modern context.  In other words, Jung was very depressed when he considered man’s fate looking ahead because we haven’t learned how to control man’s inner animal instincts. And I think what we are actually talking about is the landscape has changed so drastically males and boys have been left to devices that not only don’t work but are in many cases detrimental for the roles they now must reinterpret.

    He said: “The world hangs on a thread”; and he felt the “Shadow”, unless integrated properly, left us too vulnerable to our animal nature. Now we could get into all the myths, legends, and fairy tales that address male maturation but we are not really; (at least as far as I can see); addressing the young male’s problem of understanding their softer side in a “modern” context. The tenderness, kindness, compassionate and thinking side; as opposed to the dominate animal side; (Yes, the mixtures of functions, typologies, and attitudes Jung describes). In other words in simpler language – man’s ability to control his emotions – is just not being addressed the way it needs to be for a society to function properly as well as the child’s ability to understand their inner landscape in a way that will properly bring them to fulfilment as an adult.

    I mean if you look at the number of displaced youth; which by now is staggering compared to what it use to be); disaffected teens, broken homes; not to mention human trafficking that is taking place because of their vulnerability; and especially the increasing overdoses from drugs like fentanyl and other addicting opioids I just don’t see the social will and understanding that needs to happen. We can blame Covid; but this was taking place long before that became a concern. No, I think this is a social disconnect, and males are having a real problem finding their feet. (And no, I don’t think all of this is just a male concern either); but that’s what I’m attempting to grapple with the specific question I raised; which yes; is gender related because we are addressing the specific social role they serve; especially later as fathers.

    Now we could get into charts and studies about all manner of social dysfunctions like divorce, child abuse, domestic violence, (much less that of an emotional crisis). But I think there are a number avenues this could be looked at where male dysfunction can be traced to the “aloneness” that so many males find themselves in; and societies codes of social conduct just don’t quite meet the mark. If for example I say Ernest Hemingway and his love of Spanish culture where the word “Macho” or (much man) would apply you have a stereotypical influence informed by an archetype; the soldier, the fighter, the defender, the tough guy, and this list could get quite long. A lot of subsets would fit here as well. But what I’m attempting to establish is the inner child that is so often connected to the wounded healer and the wounded that is seeking help to unlock their inner prison is, (imho), directly connected to this development of an individual and a desire to understand some of these things that are going on inside themselves.

    And so we go to an analyst or therapist or a clergyman or a best friend to help us figure out what’s going on inside our inner world. So let’s think about shame or guilt for instance, and complexes, archetypes, symbols, patterns of behavior, emotions, dreams; but what about all the males who have no idea what that is and feel cut off and alone with no way to understand what going on inside them. Usually a lot of the time what is prescribed as treatment simply does not work because no connection is established or made to this inner dynamic and society is really not set up to deal with it anyway because of funding issues or the people involved are using the DSM-5 manual and are misdiagnosed and this list could on.

    Now I’m not saying mental health treatment is a sham; not at all. But what I am saying is much of society doesn’t really know how to deal with the modern male psyche in a way that’s going to work in a realistic way. Politics as well as unrealistic social expectations I think are part of the problem. But if you say to someone they have a mental health problem more than likely you are going to get a somewhat cautious if not negative response. Why? Because society is just now getting to the point where it’s acceptable to admit it. Say something like that to a male and often an immediate defense mechanism is triggered because of persona concerns.

    I’ve been reading lately there seems to be a rising awareness of males; especially young males feeling of alienation from society, and the aloneness that has become an increasing problem. Youth gangs are definitely on the rise because they provide a sense of family or connection they have not been able to get at home or whatever serves as that kind of relationship where they feel needed and accepted instead of ridiculed or rejected because they don’t fit in and are made to feel different than the others. You could say that is a herd mentality; but the lack of a strong sense of self I think in this case works better because even though it may be social this is not politics.

    Boys, young males, and men are struggling because society has not given them something to help them make this identity leap or transition into a world where someone like Putin can put his finger on a nuclear device and hold the world hostage or that Donald Trump can stir the pot of racism and pitch one side of the political divide against another for his own purposes. Authoritarianism is back in big way; and the human race is now confronting more than just a virus that can mutate at will; it’s got a climate crisis coming down the road to join the party.

    I hope you’ll forgive this somewhat jumbled attempt to articulate my query about the struggle that I feel many men are facing. I don’t see this issue through the same timeless lens that normally would fit this profile anymore than women would frame gender inequality either. And “the world is mess” scenario just doesn’t quite seem to work either. It is in my mind a complete and separate divide that has to do with a cultural inability to understand what’s happening to young boys, young males, and many mature and older men as well. They are held prisoner in a stereotypical pattern that is almost impossible for them to break out of without help. To me this is not just an emotional awareness concern. It is psychological in nature without a doubt; but the social prisons with behavior patterns that keep them there are not being addressed but ignored as if to say: “it’s always been this way”; and I just don’t think that is going work any longer given Jung’s fears.

    Thank you for lending your ear. I hope this humble description makes sense.