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Our Gilgamesh Dilemma


Ironically, I began last summer’s newsletter with this statement: “We have had a challenging year on many levels from politics to the environment.” Little did anyone know what we would be faced with this year. Nature spoke first with the emergence of COVID-19. No country in the world has been exempt, though many have dealt with it better than others. To our collective shame we have had more deaths than any other country even though we boast the best medical resources. Over 127,000 people (and counting) have died in the United States so far as a result of this coronavirus.

Then several weeks ago we were painfully and profoundly made aware of a psychological virus that still deeply permeates our culture with the video showing the death of George Floyd at the hands of the police. In psychological terms an insidious cultural complex once more raised its ugly head. Yet despite the pervasive coronavirus, many people could no longer sit back and pretend such things don’t happen. For unfortunately they happen far too often.

In the Gilgamesh epic, the world’s oldest story, we see the problem in the title character right from the start. Gilgamesh has had great success and built a great wall around his city of Uruk, and a fine temple to the god Anu and the goddess Ishtar. But immediately we hear how the people, especially young men and women suffer from his treatment. So the people protest to the gods, and the goddess Aruru fashions Enkidu, the Wildman, who roams free in nature as a counterpart to Gilgamesh. A priestess of Ishtar humanizes Enkidu and brings him to Uruk. His presence balances life for a while until Gilgamesh’s hubris causes the gods to decree the death of Enkidu, who has become like a brother to Gilgamesh, and Gilgamesh learns from his grief over the loss of Enkidu what it means to be truly human.

Jung suggests Gilgamesh is an example of a power complex. When power is the primary driving force in life, people will suffer. For when power dominates, there is no love. For his part, Jung realized that each of us must eventually sacrifice our heroic side, built around what we do best and what our culture values us most for, to be a better balanced person, and live in mutual appreciation with others. For him, this heroic complex was personified by an inner figure from myth called Siegfried with whom Jung had become identified. He realized that if we don’t know how and when to sacrifice the heroic in ourselves, we sacrifice others instead. He saw this as part of the drama behind World War I prior to which he had some very disturbing dreams. Thousands of lives were sacrificed.

The vision which founded this country in order to establish freedom from the oppression and tyranny of England, was forged on its own unconscious oppression, in particular the slavery of African peoples, and the genocide of Native Americans. Most ironic is that the values of these people, which closely tied them to the natural world where they lived, are the very values we need now given the crisis of global warming which looms in the background of all these events.

We have a long way to go to regain the needed balance, which must begin with respect for all human beings. One way to do this is for us to reflect on our racial complex, and I would recommend the Daily Show’s Trevor Noah’s reflections on what happened as a good starting point:

Noah, who is from South Africa, talks of the dominos that fell even before we all learned what happened to George Floyd and so many others like him. He starts with the actions of Amy Cooper who was filmed complaining about a black man who asked her to leash her dog in New York’s Central Park. She told him she would call the police, and accuse him of threatening her. She would use our cultural racial bias to avoid her own social responsibility and put blame on another person.

This hubris carries over to the police, men and women called to “protect and serve,” who would beat, shoot, and kill citizens because of the color of their skin. So tragically as people protested what happened to George Floyd we saw more footage of police violence, this time against citizens expressing their first amendment rights to speak out against the pervasive racial complex of our country, and the journalists sent out to report these events. We have not yet heard the plea of Rodney King, another victim of police violence in 1992, “Can’t we all just get along.” Editor: Steve Galipeau

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