The Crash of 2008 as a Learning Experience

The blame-game hasn't stopped. Was the crash of ’08 the fault of bankers, Congress, regulators, the media, or the people? Blaming others feels good when it defends against our participation in the fiasco.

Even though bankers may have broken the law and need more regulation, we’re all part of the problem. Deficiencies in human consciousness caused the crash. Our intelligence is impaired by unresolved negative emotions that produce collective occurrences of self-defeat or self-sabotage.

Even if we regulate the banks more stringently, as we should, we’re in danger of acting out our propensity for self-defeat in other areas of life, notably with nuclear proliferation, genetic manipulation, and environmental degradation.

We’re not to blame for being dysfunctional or neurotic. Human nature has fundamental flaws, though these can be resolved. It’s obviously crisis time on planet Earth, time to answer the call to become more conscious.

We can start by seeing and acknowledging our own contribution to the problem. We can’t prevent institutional corruption or overcome passive inaction when we neglect to address personal dysfunction and our negative emotions such as anger, distrust, dissension, envy, fear, and hatred. These emotions corrupt family, community, and national life, as they also block us from having the power or will to achieve reform.

We’re frequently weak in self-regulation, struggling to avoid addictive, compulsive, and other self-defeating behaviors. Many of us are so weak in a sense of self that we’ll believe any irrationality an authority figure advocates. Meanwhile, two prominent outgrowths of our dysfunction--the evil twins of American materialism known as Narcissism and Entitlement--stalk the land.

Frequently, we relate to others as deserving recipients of our projected hatred. Sometimes we secretly use our friendships for self-validation. Other times we perceive others as objects to be preyed on for profit or pleasure, or we see them as pitiful creatures we might pray for. Often we see only skin-deep, and we can’t appreciate the essence or uniqueness of others because we’re failing to appreciate our own goodness and value.

Personal dysfunction manifests in two interconnected ways—through distress and suffering and through self-defeating behaviors. We are dysfunctional when we are chronically unhappy, dissatisfied, or depressed. More symptoms of our dysfunction include being defensive, worrying a lot, feeling overwhelmed, messing up relationships, lacking self-regulation, neglecting our health, fearing change and the unknown, constantly criticizing, chronically complaining, and feeling like a failure. Many of us consider such emotions and behaviors to be more or less normal, as if we are fated to suffer endlessly, and do nothing about them.

Even the smartest among us can have unresolved conflicts concerning deprival, refusal, control, criticism, rejection, and betrayal. Passive-aggressively, we often provoke others in ways that enable us to act out with them the misery associated with our unresolved conflicts.

It’s important to understand how emotionally invested we have been in maintaining our negative perceptions. For instance, people often become hostile to challenges concerning the validity of their cherished beliefs. The possibility of being wrong threatens a weak person’s limited sense of self. Giving up one’s cynicism or critical impulses, for instance, is experienced emotionally and psychologically as death of the old self. The weaker the person, the more he or she can feel a sense of power and righteousness in stubbornly holding on to the old identity and its perceptions, often in defiance of facts and reason.

Society can’t go on believing that this dysfunction is caused by defective genes or the malice and ignorance of others. That renders us helpless, like watching our fortune bounce haphazardly at an unlucky roulette table.

Many paths lead to self-improvement, self-realization, and self-mastery. My path has involved psychoanalysis, through which one can illuminate personal dynamics involving transference, projection, identification, defenses, resistance, and denial. These emotional and mental dynamics influence our capacity for self-regulation, determining to what degree we are rational, creative, and civil.

The most common inner conflict, in my view, is the one between our inner aggression (the inner critic or superego) and our inner passivity (the subordinate or unconscious ego.) We get in touch with our authentic self and our powers of citizenship as we expose and resolve this conflict.