Evil is an Old, Rich White Man
I go on studying jags from time to time, usually in order to back up either a painting that I’m working on or something that I’m writing. But this particular studying jag came about because I’d been indulging myself in playing with some cards called The Wisdom Well cards, a deck that is designed to assist to a person in finding clarity within themselves with regard to some specific aspect of their life. In the book that comes with the cards, it states that the cards are based on Jungian archetypes; that is what had originally caught my eye when I purchased them second-hand. After reading through the book numerous times– it’s an instruction book, very short — and playing around with the cards, I decided that I wanted to learn more about what actual Jungian archetypes are all about, mostly because, as much as I love the cards — they’re quite fun — and while, clearly, the images presented are archetypal images, there was something about them that didn’t seem “Jungian” to me. I quickly realized that, in fact, I didn’t know all that much about either Jung or archetypes… and that’s what sent me studying… I didn’t know enough, so I set out to find out what I could and ended up discovering that there are all kinds of archetypes.
To begin my studies I got hold of a paperback book entitled The Portable Jung which was edited by Joseph Campbell, a man whose work I much admire, and small portions of whose work I know by heart having listened to it so many times. The book consists of essays written by Jung both for publication and in preparation for talks that he gave.
In the book I discovered phrases that I’ve heard other people use, and have used myself, such as “the collective unconscious.” I hadn’t known that that particular phrase, for instance, had originated with Jung and was delighted to learn of its roots. I was interested also in his differentiation between a “personal” unconscious and the collective unconscious, the collective unconscious going back throughout time, linking people with the human roles that carry so much presence and power that they have stayed with humanity, generation after generation, making up part of what is called the collective unconscious. It is in reference to that particular phenomena that Jung first used the term, “archetype.”
I thought about all this in relation to the deck of cards I’d gotten, realizing that what the author of the cards had done was to draw from her own life archetypes with which she was familiar, character types that she knew and had met over and over again, character types that are fairly common, that any one of us might meet.
There are always two sides to archetypal energy, the positive and the negative, the male and the female, the flexible and the rigid, and so on. An archetype is — or holds the possibility of being — both sides of a coin. My life has been a strange one, that is to say that it has been perhaps farther “out of the ordinary” somewhat more frequently than most people’s lives get to be. I began to think about people in my life who i it that might have been archetypal.
The most clearly archetypal person that I had known sprang to mind immediately: my mother’s father. My mother’s father embodied evil. He was an old, rich, white man who had been part of the 1% of his day. He had been a powerful man and had gathered about him other powerful men, needless to say, all white, all exceedingly wealthy. The crash of ’29 broke him. This man had been quite possibly a genius of some sort, considering both the businesses that he’d managed to build, the influential friends that he’d acquired, and his exceptional creative skills. He had owned three elaborate homes, one on either coast and another in the mountains. He was used to his lifestyle and when he lost it, he lost it… and apparently determined that it would be just fine for him to do whatever he needed to do in order to continue that lifestyle or one that was as least close to it.
To that end, he faked massive injuries as the result of a minor automobile accident and for the rest of his life collected an outrageous payment which subterfuge involved him pretending to need canes in order to walk. No problem. He used his canes everywhere he went in public. But when he went to work in his workroom, in the privacy of his home, he hung them on the wall and went about his business as the able-bodied, albeit elderly, man that he actually was. The car in which his wife — my grandmother — chauffeured him around was always the latest Cadillac. When his sons went to fight in World War II and their pay checks were sent home so that he could put them in savings accounts for them, he spent them instead.
But in order that his children would never have to go through what he was going through (stealing from his own children, for instance) he insisted that they all go to medical school because doctors are always needed and even if the economy went to hell, they’d still have their jobs. His two oldest obediently followed directions; the youngest disobeyed and was disowned.
He even went so far as to allow his precious white daughter to marry a Cuban; something that would never have happened had not that Cuban’s mother been the wealthiest woman in Cuba. And when his daughter’s first two children turned out to be little girls who looked more Cuban than “American” he reaped the reward due him for his lenience and rented my sister and I out to his powerful friends for their personal use.
When his daughter’s third child came along — also a girl — she happened to look like a baby that might have appeared on the cover of a magazine called American Baby, which is to say, she looked more like her mother that she did like her father. She had pink cheeks and curly light golden-brown hair. My grandfather idolized her, had professional photographs taken of her, surrounded with white fur, draped in pearls, during the same time period when he was marketing my sister and I.
That man, to my mind, is archetype material; he was evil incarnate. And so, to me, archetypal evil looks like a rich old white man. I doubt that anything will ever change that and today’s political climate isn’t helping my personal unconscious move past that image. I spent thirty years working on changing what my body and my consciousness had learned about life, because it wasn’t good and neither was I. I healed a lot; I had a lot to heal from. But I don’t think you ever quite heal entirely from regular close encounters with evil face-to-face… and worse.
Over time, I managed to shed almost all the negative information that I was carrying about what life is — the fear, the pain, the unrelenting sense of being watched. etc. and so on — to get to a place of very real emotional stability just in time to see another version of evil incarnate dismantle the hard-won victories of the previous sixty years that might have moved this country in the direction of an actual democracy, using people or discarding them to suit his whims, treating his friends to “special treats,” just because he can, never minding the cost to anyone else. This man comes first. He is the current Archetype of Evil; some version of him has always walked this planet, crushing the weak underfoot and killing off the strong and the smart, doing the sorts of things that my evil, old, white grandfather did: whatever it takes to make him feel better than someone, somewhere made him feel a long, long time ago.
When I’d heard that my grandfather was in hospital, dying, I went in just to make sure because my father had a saying about evil people, knowing that he was one himself in his own very special way, “El mal fallo nunca muere.”
“The bad bug never dies.”
But my grandfather was comatose and I could feel death around him. I was satisfied and he was dead within a couple of days.
The bad bug, as it turns out, can die. I give thanks for small favors.
From The Concept of the Collective Unconscious, presented by Carl Jung to the Abernethy Society at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital in London 1936.
“Can we not see how a whole nation is reviving an archaic symbol, yes, even archaic religious forms, and how this mass in the is influencing and revolutionizing and of the individual in a catastrophic manner?”
(the reference, of course, is to Hitler)