Desensitization is another name for repression. Of course, if all repressions (or protective dikes, dams, walls, etc. within the psyche) could be suddenly lifted or dissolved, we would be overwhelmed by the inrushing waters of the unconscious—and drown. In other words, our repressions (which are largely unconscious, let us remember, and not performed consciously or voluntarily) serve a crucial purpose in the maintenance of ‘that patch of dry land’—that ‘platform built upon the ocean of psyche’—which constitutes the ego. Every ego has its tolerance levels for the pressures and stresses that come with the rising waters of the unconscious psyche below.
One function of repression (and desensitization to the complexities that are involved in almost every charged-up situation) is to curb our feelings of ambivalence—to quiet our doubts. ‘Something there is that loves a wall,’ if that wall helps to ensure a measure of protection from mixed feelings and from nagging doubts. It is certainly one of the proud virtues or prerogatives of the ordinary ego—this undivided mind and singleness of purpose that is so often simply equated with strength (even, and rather surprisingly, in Nietzsche, who is nothing if he is not multifarious, complex, and polycentric in so many respects). Ambivalence and a tendency to entertain a plurality of divergent views and contradictory feelings are generally regarded as spinelessness and wishy-washiness. And this is frequently the case unless sufficient psychic flexibility and imaginative strength are present for contending with such tensions, inner contradictions, and ‘cognitive dissonance.’
Melting the arctic conceptual ice shelves upon which our egos often stand in a relative state of protection and security soon leads to a ‘sink or swim’ situation, psychologically speaking, and if we haven’t already had some swimming lessons, we may suddenly find ourselves in a very real jam. But then here is where a kind of ‘circle’—in the sense of a ‘chicken or the egg’ sort of circle—presents itself. We don’t feel the need for ‘swimming lessons’ unless we are first acquainted with the attractions and/or the dangers presented by the waters. And the ‘waters,’ of course, symbolize the shifting currents, the uncertain depths and temperatures, and the range of living creatures swarming below the surface of our frozen, flat platform. And, in keeping with this description, the uncertain waters of the unconscious psyche make a mockery of the frozen, stiff certainties that may be acceptable currency in the limited realm of ego-consciousness, but which are practically worthless once we’re thrashing about in the open water just off-shore.
Is a rough sort of line being sketched here between ‘nautical’ and ‘terrestrial’ types—those who are called to the waters and those who are not? If we are called to the waters, we must learn to swim. If we are not called, we should perhaps stay away from the waters altogether. Cultural and spiritual regeneration comes ultimately from renewed contact with the waters—especially during desiccated and spiritually impoverished eras like our own. But more or less direct contact will be limited, for these reasons, to a minority—to those who are called and who have sufficiently mastered the art of swimming within the liquid, polyvalent ‘medium’ to be able to bring big fish from that sea to the many who are confined to the shore. To harangue against the many for desperately and stubbornly clinging to their fixed ideas and literalistic dogmas is a pernicious waste of time and energy. What would we have them do? Lower their shields and topple the levees that protect them from almost certain (psychic) inundation and destruction?