On Israel and Palestine…
photography by Artemis Tsakiri ...
photography by Artemis Tsakiri
In the wake of the cataclysmic events occurring in Gaza during the past weeks it is impossible to remain unperturbed. The barbaric heinous crimes of Hamas against innocent civilians in Israel were followed by a disproportionate (see principles of just war) armed response by Israel causing unfathomable suffering and death to thousands of Palestinian civilians. As a European citizen observing these horrendous events from afar, I feel helpless horror, confusion and guilt.
I feel helpless in my inability to affect events of such horror and scale; seeing civilians suffer such violence fills me with sadness. I feel dismay not solely for these acts of infinite violence exerted on fragile human lives but also for all the political calculus in which they are embedded. Behind such acts stand actual men who have made decisions based on a type of thinking that is even more destructive than the actual bombs and riffles deployed to spread death.
Thankfully, I am not a politician; I do not have to engage in the military logic of defending a nation, a state, a religion or a collective idea by bombing hospitals, ambulances and an entire population of diminished aliens, amongst whom hide my enemies.
Neither am I a terrorist or freedom fighter – the late professor Rubin, at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, has taught me that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter- who in a mad pursuit of resistance against an unforgivable wrong committed against my people I feel justified to murder, rape, maim and kidnap civilians.
As a citizen of an affluent European country, nevertheless, I feel shame and guilt for my daily forgetfulness, which allows me to carry on with my daily tasks, undistracted, while people of another geography suffer and perish so brutally. But, my guilt, I recognise, goes much deeper than the recognition of my aloof de-sensitisation. Beyond my individual complacency, my forgetfulness in daily comforts, tasks and duties, it extends to the realisation that this latest disaster is one more episode of a problem whose structure is related to prior acts of violence perpetrated by Europeans. Notwithstading the fact that Europeans also ascribe through their institutions to the norms that stand for a universal order of democracy and human rights. Such is our paradox. One that needs to be fully appreciated without resorting to a facile form of guilt-ridden-anti-westernism or of nihilistic anti-humanism, respectively.
I will not talk about the Holocaust nor about the long legacy of antisemitism in western societies; I will not expand on the colonial past of European nations, which comes with a reprehensible history of hegemony, repression and violence on “lesser” indigenous people.
All of the above is well known; it is analysed and documented by people who are much more learned in such matters than I am. Rather, I want to talk about another dimension of this ,which is more personal and perhaps more elusive. It occurs to me that the latest round of violence in Israel and Gaza has brought home to me a very uncomfortable truth by which I cannot stand unaffected.
It has renewed my awareness as to the existence of a certain hierarchy that seems to be operative deep within. I do not (consciously) subscribe to a hierarchy of nations, races or genders. Yet, I cannot avoid the realisation that there is a certain inner lens, which renders certain kinds of suffering more visible. What is castigated as the bias of Western media may be the result rather than the cause of this. It takes less effort to empathise with people, whose religion, culture, mores and appearance are experienced as more familiar and akin to one’s own. This is a very ugly truth to confront in one’s self.
Empathy, it seems, has an egoistic dimension. Its intensity is a function of one’s ability to recognise in the suffering of the other some aspect of one’s own self. Therein lies a deeper issue. Namely, how the colonial legacy and the history of domination of the West has permeated our entire lifeworld so that the very notions that we deploy to analyse, organise and comprehend reality carry traces of oppressive legacies. I listen to my dear friend and colleague, Antonio Lafranchi, protesting that our psychological language is fraught with a systematic repression of the other; the non-occident alien (my words). He is right!
I hear my client K. struggling to open my eyes at my inability to see her in my (complacent, culturally-specific) passion to be an agent for her emancipation. She is right too…
In my own work, I have been writing about the importance of moving towards a psychology of destitution. Theoretically, I take this to mean that there is a certain obligation to work through the heavy, dense notional infrastructure of depth psychology in order to seek a place of informed ignorance vis a vis our clients.
I worry about the covert hierarchies that have creeped into our notions. I am concerned about the ways our secular or scientific tools systematically carry a violence in the form of forgetfulness- what Martin Heidegger has called Ontotheology [I am aware of the irony of evoking this name in this context].
I dread the thought of exerting this violence onto the people who arrive at our practices feeling most vulnerable and wounded, seeking some sanctuary, a topos, to build meaning for themselves. I oppose the idea of confronting them with well-formed notions about what psyche is or how meaning is to be encountered, either as a positive content, a prescribed developmental trajectory about self and history, or as a more sophisticated dialectic of negativity.
Practically, psychology of destitution pertains to a commitment to de-robing oneself from self-reaffirming certainties. Committing to the copious labor of thoughtfully and carefully working through, layer-after-layer, past the artifices that obscure the humanity of both analyst and analysand in the intimacy of their encounter.
Ultimately, psychology, as I have come to understand it, is not about “soul (-making)” or “psyche”; it is not about archetypes and the collective unconscious; nor is it about big dreams, images, notions or transcendental experiences; not even about “wholeness “or “integration”. I see it as an open-ended hermeneutical practice of dialogue aiming to bring us back to our humanity against all the forces and processes that systematically work to obscure it; a practice aimed at bringing us to our knees; wrestle us from forgetfulness/existential oblivion and unrelatedness.
In the name of the dominant abstractions that characterise our epoque (progress, productivity, development, objectivity, impact, scale, to name a few) and by servitude to higher truths acquiring the status of the absolute, in its many guises, dehumanisation seems to advance on its deleterious course.
Grateful for the photography of Artemis Tsakiri.
Once in a while a text appears that manages to capture poignantly what is of essence in a given moment in history. Such was the case with Timothy Snyder’s piece in the recent September/October 2022 edition of Foreign Affairs magazine. ...
I have collaborated with Evangelos during the time of his directorship of Stillpoint Spaces. Evangelos frames his work in a broad and humanely sophisticated way enabling people who work with him to feel that they are most valuable and important. Work with him holds a transformative potential. His deep, sensitive and caring approach combined with his diverse competencies, skills and experiences across fields holds a singularly memorable place in my professional associations internationally.
Dr. Anna Zanardi
International Board Advisor and Senior Transformation Counselor
I have come to know Evangelos as a careful, curious and caring analytical psychologist, eager to learn and to support his clients’ development.
I especially like his depth and compassion and his openness to include mythological themes in his analysis.
I am as grateful for the touching moments as for the fun we can share.
Dr. Ivan Verny
Process Oriented Psychotherapist, Supervisor, Zurich, Switzerland.
Evangelos Tsempelis brings together the rare talents of being able to reflect on himself and the world in a way that communicates to others a sense of depth and caring. His rigorous commitment to the life of the psyche inside and outside inspires and energizes. What else can one ask for in an analyst or, for that matter, any human being?
Tom Singer, MD.
Psychiatrist & Jungian Analyst, Moderator of the Ancient Greece, Modern Psyche Series, San Francisco, USA.
I have known Evangelos Tsempelis to be a dedicated psychotherapist and Jungian analyst. With empathy and understanding he meets his clients on levels that awaken their need to know more about themselves and the world. He maintains the necessary distance to be self-critical and generously expresses the warmth and care that enables his clients blossom.
Jungian Analyst and Supervisor, Zurich, Switzerland.
Evangelos is a deeply compassionate healer with a rare, pluralistic approach to psychoanalysis. He combines a thorough knowledge of the analytical psychological tradition, and expertise in the history of philosophy and religion, especially insofar as this informs the Jungian and post-Jungian movements.
Professor and Author, Department of Philosophy, Memorial University, Canada.
I have worked extensively with Evangelos during the time of his stewardship of Stillpoint Spaces, a pioneering international network of psychology-related hubs. I was impressed by Evangelos’ visionary and compassionate form of leadership. He is able to combine a deep commitment to his work as an analyst with an astute ability to bring big ideas to the world. His clients can benefit enormously from these rare traits.
Author, Entrepreneur in Residence @ ETH, Zurich.