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Four Faces of Collective Psychology
Jerry Kroth

Jerry Kroth, Ph. R, is an Associate Professor in the Graduate Division of Counseling Psychology and Education at the University of Santa Clara. His articles on Collective Amnesia and Jonestown have appeared in KRONOS and the Journal of Psychohistory, respectively. He also is the author of four books, the most recent of which is Flesh and Blood.

The readers of HORUS come from many disciplines and interest areas: archaeology, history, psychology, and archaeoastronomy to name a few. There seem to be, as well, some explorers, adventurers, thinkers, composers, intellectuals, and other eclectic renaissance men and women who make up its constituency. Within the name of the Institute for the Study of Collective Behavior and Memory and in articles in HORUS the term "collective" in relation to psychology appears frequently; but this topic, itself, has not yet received specific and definitive treatment. Quite clearly, collective psychology is a different approach to human behavior, something that goes beyond individual, clinical or ideographic representations of human activity. In most cases it makes a quantum leap from more confined, limited, traditional spheres of understanding to the far more ethereal orbit of mass behavior, the behavior of peoples, if not mankind itself. Some of these more controversial quantum leaps are the subject of this paper.

Collective Behaviorism:

If one puts a white rat in a laboratory Skinnerbox and reduces its body weight to 80% of normal (so that it is virtually always hungry), and then food pellets are dropped into the rat's environment on a random basis, the animal will begin to show irregular, bizarre, even apparently superstitious behavior as it anticipates these rewards. Research on learning and conditioning has established that compulsive behavior, pathological and catatonic behavior, as well as highly predictable, regular behavior patterns tend to be a function of known and discernible reinforcement contingencies that belong to the environment of the particular organism. In this issue and in earlier articles [see KRONOS II:4, VII:1] Dr. Griffard has argued that what happens in a Skinner-box with the laboratory rat is not dissimilar from what happens to man standing face to face with nature, whether in present times or millennia earlier. just as the rat learns to discriminate stimuli, anticipate rewards, and behave with incredible regularity and efficiency with respect to the contingencies of his Skinner-box, so, too, man learns to recognize and predict the changing face of his own environment and to use the abundant discriminative stimuli in nature to correctly anticipate the rising of the sun, the change of seasons, the necessity of establishing migratory behavior in certain climatic zones, etc. Indeed enough such stimuli are available in nature to even navigate the seas and know one's location, latitude and longitude by a simple awareness of the skies. Thor Heyerdahl's arguments that primitive man could have been far more avid a traveler of the oceans follows this line of thinking. [see also An Interview with Barry Fell, this issue]

Griffard's work leads to some rather startling conclusions. If we draw from the empirical research in the science of behavior - both in nature and in the laboratory - then it seems not only reasonable but inevitable that early man already had highly developed perceptual and cognitive skills necessary to read and exploit the bank of seasonal discriminative stimuli around him. When ancient peoples built stone reference points which were intended to mark an equinox, for example, the best assumption modem man should make is that such monuments, if they are presently incorrect, do not point to early man's incapacity and generalized mental under-development, but rather to the more likely, though unorthodox, possibility that something in the environmental system of stimulus cues, something external, has changed. To suggest that a perceptual error was made is to demean our ancestors and to make them out to be far less intelligent and "conditionable" than they must have been.(1)

We may grant Dr. Griffard his point, but we cannot ignore the controversy here. If primitive calendars and megaliths describe a starry sky that no longer exists, then mankind, in the short period of time he has occupied this earth stood in witness of major, global, cosmic changes and catastrophes which our more traditional scientists are only now beginning to discern and discover. Griffard's Collective Behaviorism leads us precisely to this vision of primitive and ancient monuments, and requires, as well, a reassessment of our vision of the ancient mind. If ancient astronomical records do not conform to the present natural order, Griffard suggests that the Behaviorists' empirical findings - that behavior is controlled primarily by the environment - require that we consider seriously the explanation first offered a generation ago from the field of psychoanalysis; namely that the visible sky, itself, has changed.

Immanuel Velikovsky: Collective Amnesia

The last issue of HORUS presented a superb introductory overview of Velikovsky's cosmology, but as this visionary had his hands in such disparate disciplines as astronomy, history, archaeology, etc., his work has not been examined primarily from the point of view of collective psychology. Certainly one major and unique Velikovskian concept is "collective amnesia". just as individuals clinically repress and forget traumatic incidents which occur in their childhood, so mankind as a whole tends to forget, distort and experience amnesia with respect to catastrophic events that have threatened the species. Velikovsky's concept merely makes a well known ontogenetic concept attain phylogenetic proportions. As science a few hundred years ago could have been accused of neurotic anthropocentrism by postulating the earth as the center of the universe, so, presently, can science be accused of containing within itself a similar neurotic, cross-discipline bias. This tendency to skew and distort probably is best captured in the doctrine called "uniformitarianism", an insidious compulsion which portrays the world as safe, secure, and changing or evolving only gradually, quietly and over inexorably long periods of time. There is an unconscious need, in short, to deny mankind's catastrophic history, to distort cataclysmic events which have occurred and either disclaim them altogether or predate them by millennia. This is, in part, one interpretation given for Velikovsky's difficulties in gaining acceptance in the scientific community. just as Galileo disabused mankind of a former, anthropocentric neurosis, perhaps Velikovsky's mission was to disabuse mankind of its uniformitarian security blanket.

A second aspect of his collective psychology is a novel attitude about ancient scripts and legends. Rather than interpret these dream-like materials from the traditional psychoanalytic or theological models, namely that such stories should be understood symbolically and appreciated for their latent content" and the moral theses in them, Velikovsky saw in many of these stories attempts to simply describe catastrophic, extreme, traumatic events that happened - in reality - to these peoples.

He inferred, for example, that celestial events caused great storms, volcanoes, earthquakes and other upheavals which threatened our species with extinction, not "billions and billions of years ago" (as the noted uniformitarian, Carl Sagan, might put it), but in relatively recent times. When the Bible mentions that plague, pestilence and great upheavals occurred prior to the Exodus, Velikovsky tends to see in this description at least the possibility that natural events were being reported. From his work, therefore, he postulated a history that few had ever suspected had happened or ever could have happened, and in so doing became ostracized in scientific circles; condemned, his works are considered little more than "science fiction" by many traditional scholars.

It is curious that so many of Velikovsky's advance claims have anticipated scientific discoveries by decades, the most recent of which appeared only last week. The new finding demonstrates the uncanny predictive power of his model. For example, in 1945 he put forward a number of explicit theses, three of which are quoted below:

Thesis 5: "The literal meaning of many passages in the Scriptures which relate to the time of the exodus imply that there was a great natural cataclysm of enormous dimensions. "
Thesis 9: Earthquakes, eruptions of volcanoes, changes of the sea profile, were some of the results of that catastrophe. "
Thesis 14: "The exodus took place at the close of the Middle Kingdom: the natural catastrophe caused the end of this period in the history of Egypt. This was in the middle of the second millennium before the present era."(2)

Thus, Velikovsky suggested real disasters not symbolic ones, and disasters which antedated the period of time biblical scholars had given to the Exodus by several centuries. Velikovsky dated the catastrophe as occurring about 1500 B.C.

Forty years later, Science News has reported that two scientists from the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History discovered ash grains taken from the Nile Delta. According to the authors, the grains came from a tremendous eruption of the Santorini volcano on Crete, an eruption which allegedly destroyed the Minoan civilization and was as forceful as Krakatoa. The authors argue that the soot and ash thrown into the atmosphere was extensive, covered most of the Mediterranean, and that the biblical account of 3 days of darkness over Egypt was a very likely outcome of that eruption. The authors hold that radiocarbon based core samples above and be low the ash support to a more probable date for the Exodus closer to 1500 B.C. Unfortunately no mention was made of the man who predicted this revised chronology forty years earlier!(3)

[*!* Image: Santorini ash [photo courtesy of Professor Daniel J. Stanley, Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C.] LABEL: Core Man IV, 6m]

While Velikovsky's entire list of scientific prognostications may not all be validated in the course of time, he has suggested a workable and meaningful method collective psychologists ought not to ignore. Specifically, our legends, fairy tales and myths may be rather explicit, literal descriptions of events, and our own present day scholarship should weigh them in that light. Traumatic events which threaten the survival of the race have a tendency to become encoded and encrypted in legend and myth. Looking at these tales as realistic descriptors may lead modem scientists to some obscure ash in the Nile Delta 800 kilometers from a 3500 year old volcano and add some genuine insight into our history, our sense of our ancestors and that incompletely deciphered book in most motel rooms which reads "... for three days there was deep darkness over the whole land of Egypt" (Exodus 10:21).

The Psychoanalytic Schools:

Beginning with Moses and Monotheism along with Freud's Totem and Taboo, a tradition of generalization from the clinic to collective psychology was initiated. The number of clinicians, expatriate clinicians and interdisciplinary scholars who have contributed to this movement is perhaps too cumbersome to even mention. Certainly the following have been significant works in the field: Norman O. Brown's Love's Body, Marcuse's Eros and Civilization, Theodore Reik's Myth and Symbol, Geza Roheim's Gates of the Dream. Indeed the whole field of psychoanalytic anthropology and what is now called psychohistory legitimately might be called collective psychology. It is suggestive of a different approach than either of the two prior paradigms cited, because the bias within this school of thought is clearly intrapsychic in nature. Legends, myth, folklore, custom and behavior are interpreted, generally, as epiphenomena of basic psychoanalytic mechanisms operative today within us all.

Bruno Bettleheim's work in fairy tales typifies this approach.(4) Hansel and Gretel represent two children faced with the task of growing up. Their own infantile "oral greed" is projected first upon their stepmother whose depriving cruelty throws them into a wilderness of abandonment. The cannibalistic evil witch represents Hansel and Gretel's second projected vision of their own oral strivings. (As she threatens to consume them, they, in turn, threaten to eat her out of house and home.) Their unconscious wish to be nourished in a passive-dependency Bettelheim calls "infantile bliss" is symbolized by the candy house in the forest. The necessity of becoming an adult means abandoning or departing from this blissful passive-dependency, and most children must pass through this developmental stage to achieve a normal adolescence and adulthood. Hansel and Gretel use their imagination and initiative, defeat the evil witch, save themselves (rather than being "rescued" in the helpless-dependent ways found in other fairy tales), and reap the rewards of their independent, cooperative, and assertive actions. Thus the fairy tale is seen by Bettelheim as something of a developmental, moral lesson communicated to children, a tale which reinforces independence and reiterates the necessary task of abandoning passivity and oral dependency in favor of more creative, self-initiated behavior required for proper adaptation and growth.

When we ask why this particular fairy tale has lasted 400 years, or why Cinderella and its variants have endured well over 2000, this school of thought generally answers the question by contending that such important, encrypted, symbolic messages exist in these stories that they continue to have adaptive significance to people today. The developmental tasks of young children 2000 years ago are not unlike the same challenges all children face, thus the culture continues its traditions with encoded materials which, through unconscious communication, teach subsequent generations important developmental lessons.

As Velikovsky and some critics of this approach have discovered, scholars sometimes place too much weight on the hidden meanings and may miss the more obvious literal significance of these tales. Nonetheless, the school of thought the psychoanalysts offer to us is not to be disregarded. Clearly there is an "unconscious" and a whole body of written and oral tradition remains unexplained but known, memorized, recited, and retold generation after generation without any real, conscious awareness in those who recite, memorize, retell and who, in turn, are conditioned by such traditions. "Ring around the rosy, pocket full of posy" is thought to commemorate, at a purely unconscious level, the Black Death of the 14th century. Children today can be found acting out this symbolic heritage without having any conscious knowledge of what they are doing. Close to half the population of Europe was wiped out in a very short period of human history because of this plague, and it is both a mystery and a revelation to recognize that the human psyche through unconscious mechanisms (or through a 'collective unconscious') remembers these traumatic events, symbolizes them, and encodes them into our culture magically reminding us of ancient threats to our species in the most curious ways.

The Jungian School:

Probably the most stimulating of these collective psychologists is Carl Jung, who, despite his differences with Freud, still probed and continued a form of scholarship that Freud, himself, began in Moses and Monotheism. Jung's work in dreams led him to feel that the psyche has a more timeless, perhaps even immortal element and that man seems to have an ability to see beyond time and space; to transcend, to anticipate and experience events that have yet to occur. The incident of the young Cincinnati man who dreamt of an American Airlines flight crashing in Chicago because an engine fell off and called the FAA to warn them of this pending disaster (three days before the event actually happened) would not be dismissed out of hand by a Jungian as a meaningless coincidence or freak of nature, but as a topic of serious inquiry.(5)

In this same vein, the collective unconscious to the Jungians may have anticipatory or predictive power. Dream work contains numerous examples of individuals who saw future events displayed to them on the screen of their own nighttime experience. Mendeleev saw empty portions of his periodic table filled in (correctly) as a result of revelatory dream. The chemical structure of benzene was similarly revealed in a dream.

The Jungian concept of "anticipatory dreaming" adds a dimension that simply does not exist in the other schools of thought we have discussed. To Jung, an event or a symbol in a dream may lead us forward, may suggest or portend future significance, may, in fact, foreshadow something that has yet to occur. Consider, for example, Orson Welles' radio program in 1938 which stunned and frightened so many people who fell into his theatrical trap and believed Martians had raided our cities from the sky. Is it not peculiar that so many people remember the event or have heard of it? To a Jungian, such an occurrence might clearly have predictive, symbolic, futuristic noesis associated with it. After all, World War Two broke out only a year later, and fears of being attacked and raided from the sky suddenly became realities. The title of Welles' broadcast was notable in this context as well; "War of the Worlds."

Most Americans remember Jonestown as a singular, tragic event in our recent history, but do not attach a great deal of symbolic meaning to it. Jonestown, however, may be loaded with unexplored, unconscious significance in the American psyche. There have been no mass suicides of such magnitude in American history and the possibility that this event portends something ominous is worth at least a cursory look. There are some collective psychologists who believe it proper to spend their time attempting to read and decipher not just ancient, but also contemporary writing on the wall.6 The writing on the wall above the "throne" of Jim Jones is shown in the following photograph:

[*!* Image]

These words, like an epitaph waving in the breeze over the 913 decomposing bodies that lay in the hot Guyanese sun, becomes something of a symbolic omen for those of us left behind to observe and ponder. As a contemporary legend, Jonestown, like America herself, encodes within its history a description of people, mostly poor, who saw themselves escaping from oppression and exploitation, emigrating to a new world (Guyana) and actualizing a utopian vision. The parallels with early American pilgrims are many. As that society developed, it simultaneously began to decay and become subject to self-indulgence, drugs, and personal ambitiousness. Its peculiar "White Nights" suicide rehearsals counterpoint America's own military war game exercises, and just as its cyanide contingency plan ultimately became reality, we may justifiably wonder if our own military doomsday exercises might similarly burst into reality someday. In this manner, Jonestown can be seen as some kind of historical fantasy acted-out in real life, a collective nightmare from which we, the dreamers, must awaken to discover the meaning within... lest we, ourselves, be condemned to repeat something we have not properly remembered, assimilated and understood. To Jung, dreams not only contain shadowy visions of the future, but actual warnings of fateful circumstances that will be faced unless the dreamer becomes conscious and actively aware of the significance and meaning of these symbolic revelations. If Orson Welles "War of the Worlds" was such a symbolic omen foreshadowing World War Two, then Jonestown may have similar, foreboding, symbolic significance anticipating a future holocaust.

Science vs. Speculation:

Collective psychology in all its forms is a speculation and, by definition, far from antiseptic scientific analysis. Correlational evidence, historical citations, archaeological digs, and even some experimental laboratory studies with rats can and do provide some 'respectability' to this discipline, but it would be naive to assert that collective psychology is a science pure and simple. The figure below somewhat summarizes the various schools as they have been described here and gives an approximate idea of how rooted each is in empiricism. In addition, one may view each school with respect to how it treats its data, namely as information which is best understood as symbolic of something deeper or intrapsychic vs. data which may be treated as more explicit, descriptive and real.

[*!* Image: Diagram of relative viewpoints in collective psychologist. LABELS: Jungian; Freudian, Velikovskian; Behavioral; Speculative, Emperical]

None of these schools, however, can be considered presently to be within the realm of rigorous science, and such is the nature of the discipline and its wide, interdisciplinary subject-matter. For those "rats and stats" psychologists who pooh-pooh such models as wild, radical, poppycock, however, it is necessary that we look at the context in which collective psychology is evolving. We live in a world where 3.5 tons of TNT have been stockpiled for every human being on Earth. There are now close to one million nuclear warheads with the destructive potential of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. There is an urgency in our present era to read the writing on the wall, even if it cannot yet be subject to experimental rigor, testing, and proof.

Most American psychologists to this day remain relatively ignorant of the shameful role psychology played in anticipating the last major collective cataclysm. If anything, American psychology completely ignored World War Two. In 1938 there were some 6,500 psychologists publishing. One year later a holocaust happened on the planet where 45 million people lost their lives in the space of 6 years. In the year preceding the outbreak of that war, however, the 6,500 American psychologists failed to publish a single study of antisemitism; they did not publish one article on Naziism, even though Hitler had been in power for many years, and not a single article was published in that year on Japan.' Most American psychologists were busy staying within the confines of their disciplines, continuing to feel that expanding beyond their specializations into more speculative arenas was not to be condoned. Thus, in the year prior to the outbreak of World War Two, there were 13 studies published about advertising, and scores about learning and reinforcement, but none on a holocaust that this profession simply missed, ignored, or pretended was not relevant to its intellectual mission.

Criticisms of collective psychology in today's world, therefore, must be tempered by the fact that traditional psychology missed the boat once, and there is too much of a risk to repeat that historic mistake again, regardless of how appealing it is to have a stringent bias in favor of clear and unambiguous scientific proof. Presently, 6,666 times more megatonnage exists in the world's arsenals than were dropped by the allies in World War Two (3 megatons in 1945 vs. 20,000 megatons in 1985). Recognizing that the collective unconscious may symbolize in multiples for emphasis, we should not overlook that the Book of Revelation speaks of apocalypse, the end of the world by fire, and mysteriously cites the number of the "beast" as 666.

"Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six." (Revelation 13:18).

Rather than treat these ancient documents as immaterial and arcane, collective psychology, instead, takes a free hand and considers all sources relevant to the problems that face us [including the fact that Ronald Wilson Reagan is the only president ever elected in this country with six letters in his first, middle and last name]. How this information is evaluated, intellectualized or promulgated in theory is nothing more than an expression of curiosity, free speech, preliminary and heuristic scholarship, and hopefully information that contributes to human understanding rather than something which might just as easily degenerate into political axe-grinding or wholesale superstitious hogwash if it is not carefully and responsibly developed.

If there is any single commonality between all of these schools, it is probably that the ancient mind, through its monuments, myths, legends, fairy tales or apocalyptic texts has something to give man in this present and dangerous hour of our history, and we can only hope that this emerging profession will live up to the challenge of its noble mission.


1. David Griffard, "An Empirical Approach to Collective Amnesia, KRONOS, VII:1, 198l, pp. 11-20.
2. Immanuel Velikovsky "Seismology, Catastrophe and Chronology," KRONOS VIII:4, 1983, p. 54.
3. "Santorini Volcanic Ash Found in Egypt. ", Science News, Vol. 128, Nov. 9, 1985, p. 294.
4. Bruno Bettleheim, The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales. (New York: Vintage Books, 1975).
5. San Francisco Chronicle, June 1, 1979.
6. Jerry Kroth, "Recapitulating Jonestown," Journal of Psychohistory, Vol. 11(3), 1984, pp. 384-393.
7. Psychological Abstracts, Vol. 12, 1938.

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