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By Curt Eriksen


The Montréal Review, April 2011




As I leave Europe behind and fly across the Atlantic Ocean it occurs to me that Carl Jung was simply not satisfied with causal and linear thinking because such thinking-that A causes B, and then B causes C, etc.-could not answer the most fundamental and pressing questions that occurred to him when he considered the operation of the human psyche (including the collective, or social, human psyche), such as, "Why did it have to be like this?"

Since Jung's time-and having gradually incorporated his contributions into our intellectual vocabulary-we have come to realize that it is not easy to approximate the unknown with the only mental tools we are aware of and know how to use, those of our discriminating and reasoning mind. In addition we now realize that these tools are never sufficient when it comes to unraveling the real and innermost mysteries of our lives. We might get close, we might circle around the essence of the problem, but we will never be able to go in there so long as we limit ourselves to the use of these blunt instruments. Jung saw this and he hit upon the notion of what he called 'synchronicity,' the idea that different 'events' occur not only simultaneously but in some other interrelated and highly significant manner that we cannot always decipher (especially when we rely upon the paradigm of our causal thinking) or even perceive.

Among the inspirations for Jung's notion was the Chinese classic, the Yi Jing, or the Book of Changes, originally a divination text which, based upon the simplicity of combining eight trigrams in 8² ways to get 64 hexagrams, has long been used by practioners to enable themselves to see a little more clearly what they were already dimly aware of (as if they were gazing into one of those ancient tarnished bronze mirrors). And the most irrefutable example he used to illustrate the concept of synchronicity was that of two brothers (or any two people who care very much for each other and are in some way intimately connected) who, while not together at the precise moment of one of their deaths (during the war, for example 1), still managed to communicate the knowledge and certainty of this death at the precise moment it occurred: in other words, the survivor knew that his brother had died as soon as it happened, though there is no way to explain this rationally. Rather he simply 'felt it in his bones.'

This sort of 'esoteric' knowledge is not easy for the rational mind to deal with because it is far too slippery-like trying to take the hook out of the mouth of a big mouthed bass with fingers smeared with butter. But any careful, unbiased and open-minded examination of most of the facts in most of our lives would indicate an underlying reality that is informed by precisely this sort of slippery understanding.

The death of Bin Laden, for example, has already produced-and will continue to produce for some time to come-streams of analysis and volumes of literature in which all of the most obvious questions will be raised (what did the Pakistani ISI really know about the location and habits of this most wanted outlaw during the past decade, etc.), and many of those questions will be satisfactorily answered. Good strong clear capable minds will hone the blade of the rational discourse that will surround this dramatic event, the assassination of another iconoclastic and very slippery figure indeed, at long last. And soon (much sooner than some of us would like to think) there will be a handful of updated biographical studies on the shelves of the major book retailers dealing with the life and times of Osama Bin Laden and the bloody consummation of his own fiery urge towards self-immolation.

But much more interesting, to my mind, is the connection that Roger Cohen (among others?) has already made 2 between the culmination of the $10 billion 3 plus pursuit of the one man most symbolically linked to the 9/11 attacks, and the various revolutions sweeping across what we call the Arab World during the first half of 2011. Is it merely a coincidence that Bin Laden was finally located near the climax of this tumultuous spring, on May Day of this particular year?

Everyone agrees that the death of Bin Laden means next to nothing in practical terms. Not only is the organization of Al Qaeda reckoned to be cellular rather than pyramidical, and capable of regenerating arms and legs again whenever they get cut off, just like a starfish. But it's hard to imagine that Bin Laden continued to play much of a tangible leadership role when he was hiding behind twelve foot walls with no electronic devices capable of linking him to other members of the terrorist network he had done so much to develop, fortify and direct, and all of this within a five-minute stroll of the Pakistani equivalent of West Point or Sandhurst.

But just because the war against Al Qaeda isn't over-and indeed, the security risk has skyrocketed with the very legitimate concerns of vengeful reprisals for the extermination of the symbolic leader-doesn't mean Bin Laden's death is any less meaningful. In ways that we cannot yet fully appreciate, this incident could only happen now, when the men and women who inhabit the Arab World are gaining confidence and growing steadily more determined to ensure that the old order is completely razed and some sort of representative political and economic organization of their societies succeeds in replacing the anachronistic authoritarian dictatorships that have done so much over the years to fuel the demagogic anti-Western discourse that Bin Laden perfected and used to inflame the passions of a people desperate to determine their own fate. In ways we may never be able to rationally comprehend, these masses of men and women might have done more to locate and eliminate Osama Bin Laden than the CIA operatives and the SEALS responsible for putting the bullet through his head. 4 And in this almost metaphorical sense the jubilation upon the death of a man who was always more determined to destroy than create is genuinely widespread, and global as well.


1 Or for that matter any war, but in the case of Jung's specific example it was WWI.

2 'The Post-Bin Laden World,' International Herald Tribune, Tuesday, May 3, 2011.

3 "For nearly a decade, the United States has paid Pakistan more than $1 billion a year for counterterrorism operations whose chief aim was the killing or capture of Bin Laden, who slipped across the border from Afghanistan after the U.S. invasion of 2001." From 'Stealth attack likely to worsen shaky alliance with Pakistan,' by Salman Masood, Carlotta Gall and Jane Perlez, in the International Herald Tribune, Tuesday, May 3, 2011.

4 In suggesting a possibility like this my intention is not to take anything away from these brave men and women; rather it is to include the other equally anonymous-at least as far as the 'public' is concerned-and equally fearless men and women now clamoring for some of their basic human rights in the streets of cities like Benghazi.


Curt Eriksen is writing a novel set in Spain during the Spanish Civil War. His short fiction and poetry have appeared in the U.S., U.K., India and Spain, in Orbis, Blackbird, Rosebud, New Madrid, 34th Parallel, Contrary, 42opus and Alba among many other print and online journals. You can read Eriksen's essays, poetry and short stories at: http://clerik.weebly.com/


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