I’m just gonna throw this out there for those who need to read it: it’s okay to feel conflicted about the death of the Queen. Don’t let anyone shame you for that. We live in a complicated era of messaging. And the social media ecosphere only compounds this. But we also are living through an unprecedented era of collective grief. And it will manifest in ways we cannot begin to imagine.
I think some people are feeling a sense of grief over the Queen because, consciously or not, they identify her as an archetype. Whether one sees this as accurate or flawed, to them this archetype represented dignity, fortitude, tradition and stability. Since our earliest ancestors climbed down from the trees, we have understood our universe as an interplay of various unseen actors of the psyche or soul. The archetype serves as a place to seek refuge in a world that may feel threatening, is rapidly changing, or that might even seem to be unraveling.
For others, the Queen might have reminded them of their own mother or grandmother. This might seem trite or even infantile to some, but it is a common experience for many people and not just related to the death of someone famous. People who work in nursing facilities often feel this for elderly people they do not know personally. Although mass media amplifies these notions, there is nothing inherently wrong with having these feelings. But it is important to understand where they may be stemming from.
Others, however, are rejoicing because they saw the Queen as a major symbol of centuries old colonialist brutality, especially in the Global South. A symbolic leader of the dictatorship of money that the world continues to languish under. A vestige of feudalism which peddled the elitist myth that some bloodlines are purer or more important than others. And they are glad that at least a part of this era has ended.
The grief here may not be evident for some, but it is there. And I share it. It is a grieving for genocide, cruelty, theft and the misery that accumulated from centuries of murderous plunder in the name of imperialism. And, even though its expression is sometimes crude or even vulgar, it is valid and should not be dismissed or discounted.
Both camps have elements that wish to castigate the other. To shame or mock the sensibilities of those whom they see as either meanspirited brutes with no sense of human decency or shameless sycophants and apologists for murderous imperialism. But, whether or not either side wishes to accept this, it is possible to hold a universe (or multiverse, to be more accurate) of all of these feelings and more within oneself. It is possible to see the points of each camp and hold those points, however uneasily, within ones mind. To grapple with the open wounds and legacy of generational colonial trauma, the banal racism of bloodlines and inherited power, seeing the human being behind the role they play, and parsing through the archetypes we all need and employ to make sense of our world.
As I have made clear multiple times, I am a republican (small “r”). I am against the very notion of monarchy or the injustice of inherited power or ill-gotten wealth. I’ve also written, at length, about the evil of imperialism and colonial plunder. I can also understand, however, the enormous and often hidden power of imagery. I cannot dismiss the influence of archetypes on our lives and interactions. Understanding, or attempting to, is not an endorsement for any particular one.
But I have been thinking about grief, especially our collective grief as a species, for a long time now. And I cannot help but see this latest public event as a significant marker for where we are, especially in relation to the dying and death of old institutions, failing democracy, growing economic disparity and looming ecocide. While the mainstream media is amplifying a specific narrative surrounding this public death, collective grief is a psychic experience. And when I say psychic I am referring to the psyche.
The psyche isn’t some binary, black and white blueprint. It is fluid and infinite in its depth and reach. It is the source of both our internal map and our moral compass. A repository for our dreams, fears, desires, hatreds, longings and love to coalesce. It is also the place where conflicted feelings can be held without prejudice. Only those who are jaded, deeply wounded, or utterly devoid of an imagination would deny this for themselves and others. And I think they, for the sake of ones emotional, mental and spiritual health, should be avoided at all costs. Our psyches are reacting to what is happening to our world and the mass media and culture are a part of this process, even if they are not aware of it.
Whether we like it or not, we have entered into era of mass grieving. None of us have a choice about this. Around the world the societal institutions and structures many of us have relied upon are now seeming to turn against us. The framework of democracy is fraying in ways few thought possible. Economic disparity, which has been codified as a given in late capitalism, is robbing more and more of us of our homes, health, education, vocation and a viable future. Human rights are being stripped away at the most basic of levels. Wars are raging, with even more saber rattling becoming a daily ritual. And our biosphere is under siege from rapacious greed, the result being drought to flood to heatwave to colossal storm, repeating in a cycle no one can quite anticipate or fathom.
We have no choice about any of the above, but we do have a choice about how we would like to proceed through this treacherous landscape of grief that lies before us all. Either by opening ourselves up to solidarity through the hard work of empathy, or biting and tearing at each other, hoping to draw blood and rip apart flesh as we go. There will be many who choose the latter path, either consciously or not. But none of this is about demanding perfection in anyone. Not by a long shot. Collective grief is not linear nor will it manifest in all the ways we want it to manifest. But this is about beginning to see ourselves in the other. And simply realizing it is far better to link arms with one another before the encroaching darkness and feel empathy for each others anger, suffering and fear, rather than go through it alone and enraged.
Kenn Orphan, September 2022