The Crucible (1952)
by Arthur Miller
The false-self behavior that dominates The Crucible is projection. P-B is a worldview that effectively isolates the individual or the collective. Repressing the darkest and most unhealthy aspects of our personalities into our personal and collective shadows sets up the countless dramas most of us are involved in. This repression leads to egocentrism and ethnocentrism which makes necessary the creation of the other and to the projection of the shadow onto the scapegoat that the other becomes. Virtually all of the violence that exists in the world rests on this psychological foundation, this all too human behavior.
The Point of Power Practice is the discipline necessary to avoid repressing or expressing the reactions involved with accepting life “as it is.” “Repression appears less painful than discipline. But unfortunately, it is also more dangerous, for it makes us act without consciousness of our motives, hence irresponsibly. Even though we are not responsible for the way we are and feel, we have to take responsibility for the way we act. Therefore, we have to learn to discipline ourselves. And discipline rests on the ability to act in a manner that is contrary to our feelings [emotions] when necessary. This is an eminently human prerogative as well as a necessity.” Notice how the characters in The Crucible are unable to “discipline themselves.”
Because the Puritan church in Salem is so oppressive, the people have had to repress a great deal into what individually and collectively has become a very large and dark shadow. As the autonomous complexes of their shadows are given opportunity for expression, they are quick to find scapegoats on which to project that which they most fear. Miller observed that: “Long-held hatreds of neighbors could now be openly expressed, and vengeance taken, despite the Bible’s charitable injunctions.”
The Puritans of Salem had much to fear including the hostile Native Americans, the dark and threatening forest, Satan, God, the false-self behaviors of their own neighbors and the oppressive guilt occasioned by their own imagined sins. “The witch-hunt was not, however, a mere repression. It was also, and as importantly, a long overdue opportunity for everyone so inclined to express publicly his guilt and sins, under cover of accusations against the victims.” Witches make great scapegoats, they are the ideal other.
This play was Miller’s reaction to the Army-McCarthy hearings of the 1950’s in the U.S. during the reaction to the spread of Communism. The same thing had been happening in Communist countries for decades. “In the countries of the Communist ideology, all resistance of any import is linked to the totally malign capitalist succubi, and in America any man who is not reactionary in his views is open to the charges of alliance with the Red Hell.”
Nothing distorts or obscures reality like fear and Miller was not optimistic for the future of his country. “It is still impossible for man to organize his social life without repressions, and begin to strike a balance between order and freedom.” It is a mistake to believe that the choice is between order and freedom because in reality the choice is between illusion and consciousness. Political freedom, economic well-being, religious morality, etc. are all part of the illusion which is the foundation of P-B.
The Puritan “elders” were also using fear to consolidate and maintain their control as the government was attempting to do during McCarthy’s reign of terror. In The Crucible it was not Communism but the Devil that was the specter of evil. “The Devil may become evident as a weapon, a weapon designed and used time and time again in every age to whip men into a surrender to a particular church or church-state.” Today, of course, the specter is Terrorism and many people in the U. S. are not imagining witches abroad in the night but explosive-carrying suicide bombers.
The parallels among Colonial Salem, 1950’s America and the Post 9-11 United States is so exact because the paradigm has not changed. Miller describes the worldview of the Puritans. “The Puritan not only felt, but constantly referred his feelings to concepts, to codes and ideas of social and ethical importance.” The context today is still P-B and the dominant human identity is still the false-self so, of course, the behaviors are the same. Only the costumes and the language need be changed to stage the same play over and over. Again in the words of the playwright: “A political policy is equated with moral right, and opposition to it with diabolical malevolence. Once such an equation is effectively made, society becomes a catastrophe of plots and counterplots, and the main role of government changes from that of the arbiter to that of the scourge of God.” We can see this happening today in the controversies over abortion, prayer and the teaching of evolution versus “intelligent design” in the schools, and the issues of the separation of church and state at both the state and national level.
References and notes are available for this essay.
Find a much more in-depth discussion on this blog and in printed books by Roy Charles Henry.