G20 Toronto: What the Heck Just Happened?
On June 26 and 27, the leaders of the G20 nations and numerous other nations met in downtown Toronto. For many living in this area, what happened in the course of those two days has something of the character of a nightmare in the collective psyche of the City of Toronto, and indeed, the whole of the Greater Toronto Area [“GTA”] and much of Canada.
For those of you who don’t know Toronto, let me explain that it is one of the more decent and livable large cities on the North American continent. This is a city that is genuinely, vibrantly diverse, and one that is characterized by a great deal of openness and tolerance. As I started to write this post on Sunday, July 4th, the City’s 30th Gay Pride parade –North America’s largest — was taking place.
But you wouldn’t have recognized Toronto during the two days of the G20 summit. As many of you will be aware, we had burning police cars, police arrests for which there was apparently no actual legal authority, shop windows of not only large corporations but also small merchants vandalized, and a small minority of so-called “Black Bloc” rioters who effectively kept the voice of thousands who were legitimately exercising their right of free speech from being heard.
In a democracy, people often have widely divergent views. The exchange of those views can sometimes become very heated, especially when those of more left-leaning and more right-leaning perspectives encounter one another. And especially when the issues being considered involve concerns as fundamental as debt, poverty, economic health, globalization and the environment.
However, what occurred in Toronto over these two days was not any encounter of this kind. It was a fundamentally different kind of experience. People on all sides seem to have been caught up in fear and confusion. Over the last week, there has been a sense that the GTA is gradually emerging from some kind of fog, and coming back to itself.
I don’t think that it is an over-statement to say that the G20 events and their aftermath have affected many people in a manner that has the character of trauma. Just what it was in the course of the G20 that any particular individual found traumatic varied. It might have been the images of burning police cars, or the windows of shops broken in, or stories of individuals arrested and held without proper authority, or video images of overwhelming police presence. Regardless of which particular images or stories it was, the response of individuals to the G20 events seems to have been “This isn’t the Toronto I grew up in and trusted! What has happened to my city?”
In my opinion, that’s the right question. What happened to our city? More specifically, what happened to the psyche of our city? And it’s at this point, I believe, that CG Jung has some things to say that are specifically relevant. For instance, he states at one point in his Collected Letters:
Any organization in which the voice of the individual is not heard is in danger of degenerating into a subhuman monster.
I believe that this is the essence of what was wrong with the whole G20 summit experience in Toronto. The individual, and his or her meaning and significance, became completely lost. The whole event was completely disconnected from the life of the City of Toronto, and the experience of its citizens. Everything about the G20, and especially its titanic size, just serves to dwarf the significance of the individual. The forces grinding and clashing at such an event are so huge that the voice of the individual simply cannot be heard in any meaningful way.
A democracy cannot afford to do politics in this manner. At least, it cannot do so, and expect to remain a democracy. In my opinion, there is a deep need at this point in our history to bring political decision-making down to a more human scale. I don’t know whether that is a point that favours the right or the left, but it is a simple reflection of human psychological reality. If we lose the individual, we will find ourselves submerged in crowds and mobs which we cannot influence, governed by unconscious psychological forces that we cannot begin to control or even understand. That kind of mass psychology leads to disaster.
It’s up to each of us to take a personal stand to keep our political and social life fundamentally human, and to deliver a message to politicians, officials and others: individual persons–and only individual persons–count.
My next blog post will return to my “Iron Man” series, with “Anxiety Behind the Mask, Part III: Heart Trouble
I’d welcome your reflections on the G20 in Toronto. Do you agree with me that it took us to some pretty unsatisfactory places, or do you have another perspective on these events? Do you agree or disagree with me that now is a particularly important time to focus on the value and dignity of individual persons in our collective and political life? As always, I greatly value your comments and reflections — and you certainly don’t have to agree with me!
My very best wishes to each of you on your individual journey to wholeness,
Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst
PHOTO CREDITS: © Turkbug| Dreamstime.com
© 2010 Brian Collinson