Saturday, February 05, 2011

A Short Jungian Interlude 7

Humankind's Learning Capacity:

Rodin Museum, Paris, October, 2007
One reason I love reading Jung so much is that I always come away with a new and deeper insight into human nature, or more specifically into the human psyche.  He opines learnedly that the question of the nature of human instinct is far from simple and that it is a quality almost exclusive to humankind.  It would be hard to gainsay the psychiatrist here.  He goes on to aver that this capacity for learning, indeed this drive for learning, is "based on the instinct for imitation found in animals."!  (The Undiscovered Self, Routledge, 1958, 2010) 

Now, it is the nature of this instinct for learning that differentiates humankind from its brothers and sisters in the animal kingdom.  Further, it is also in the nature of this drive to knowledge to disturb other instincts and even modify them.  He points to the case where birds can learn new melodies and songs from other birds, or as we know today even imitate the sounds of alarms - either of house or car.

Estrangement and Alienation

I have already pointed out humankind's disturbing feeling of self-alienation or self-estrangement.  I also alluded to the fact that this latter theme was very much one common to the existentialist writers of the early and middle twentieth centuries.  Here, in this short book, however, Jung does not refer to any work of any contemporary philosopher as he wrote this short classic as a work for the lay person, and it has now become a good introduction to his thoughts on the human condition in general and on the human psyche in particular.

Jung locates much of our dark or shadow side, namely our propensity for evil in all its various guises, firmly within the effects of the drive to knowledge on the other native drives found in our human condition.  However, these effects are the by-product or the shadow of the more positive results of this drive to knowledge, namely, everything that civilization has gifted humankind with, viz., science, technology, culture in all its forms: literature, art, drama, music and so on and so forth.  The wonderful thing about reading Jung is that he is nothing if not holistic and eclectic in his approach - in anything he researches he seeks to cover it in all its aspects, especially its positive and negative aspects.  Hence, while he throws light on much of the unconscious in human beings he is also aware of the evil shadow these latter have cast upon themselves, upon each other and upon the very environment in which they live, namely Mother Earth or Gaia.  If humanity is the guardian of the Earth, at the same time it is her destroyer.

Being Uprooted

Another Rodin sculpture, Paris Museum, 2007
I have always loved this metaphor for humankind's self-alienation.  I came across many years ago when I was studying philosophy in the late 1970s.  I well remember reading Albert Camus' stark "L'Étranger" in English translation, of course, and Fyodor Dostoyevski's Notes from Underground and his wonderful Brothers Karamazov under the tuition of our astute philosophy lecturer Fr. Patrick Carmody, M.A., M.Phil.  It was he, through these wonderful writers, who first introduced me to the existential theme of alienation or uprootedness.  I later came across it in Irish Gaelic literature in the poetry of one of our brilliant 20th century poets in that language, Máirtín Ó Díreáin, and specifically in his poem called "Stoite" which means "Uprooted," and, indeed, this poet went on to coin his own substantive from that adjective to give us the wonderful abstract noun called "stoiteachas" in the Gaelic, which is an exact translation of Jung's word "uprootedness" in the following ad rem passage:

It [the drive for knowledge] is also the source of numerous psychic disturbances and difficulties occasioned by man's progressive alienation from his instinctual foundation., i.e., by his uprootedness and identification with his conscious knowledge of himself, by his concern with consciousness at the expense of the unconscious.  The result is that modern man can know himself only in so far as he can become conscious of himself - a capacity largely dependent on environmental conditions... [H]e forgets himself in the process. losing sight of his instinctual nature and putting his own conception of himself  in place of his real being.  In this way he slips imperceptibly into a purely conceptual world where where the products of his conscious activity progressively replace reality.  (Op.cit., pp. 57-8)
The Split in the Human Psyche:

They say rather humorously here in Ireland that the first item on every political agenda in this country is "the split."  Jung is not referring to the split between people here at this stage in this chapter, rather he is pointing out how the human being is by nature a duplex not a simplex - his terms. (See ibid., p. 60)  Or to put it in other terms there is a psychic split between the Conscious and the Unconscious in human beings, with the latter being very strongly to the forefront or very strongly in the ascendant to use two distinct but appropriate metaphors.  Another pair of opposites we could use are the Rational and the Irrational.  Jung uses another pair of opposites in this little classic, and indeed throughout his whole oeuvre to mean the exact same as this pair, namely, Rational and Religious, the latter which he sees to be obviously irrational.  Another pair we could mention in this context is Head and Heart (as Blaise Pacal put it rather astutely: "Le coeur a ses raisons que la raison ne connait point": "The heart has its reasons of which reason knows absolutely nothing!")  Rational and Instinctual would be yet again another oppositional pair.

Oftentimes, indeed far more often than not, human beings who are weighed down under the weight of this psychic split join together to form movements which foment uprisings, revolutions and wars of freedom.  They also join humanitarian movements in an attempt to cure the ills of a very fragmented world.  However, Jung is at pains to point out, and it is hard to gainsay him on this point, that such a drive within any human being to join such movements and attempt to bring about more freedoms of all types for his fellow human creatures is itself an externalization of the inner split, of the desire to seek the wholeness (holiness, integrity, unity, one-ness) of the psyche.  This, I believe is an astute and profound insight given us here by Jung:

The accumulation of individuals who have got into this critical state starts off a mass movement purporting to be the champion of the suppressed.  In accordance with the prevailing tendency of consciousness to seek the source of all ills in the outside world, the cry goes up for political and social changes which, it is supposed, would automatically solve the much clearer problem of the split personality. (Ibid., p. 58)
Neglecting our Instincts leads to Conflict and War

This sub-heading, while not Jung's, is exactly one of the points he goes on to make rather forcefully in this chapter of this wonderful classic.  When we neglect the other pole of our esentially duplex nature, that is, when we concentrate all our energies on the ego and on our consciousness to the detriment of the unconscious, then we are setting ourselves up for trouble, conflict and eventually war.  Remember that this book was written in 1957 and published in 1958 at the height of The Cold War which is alluded to many times throughout.  Also remember that Jung was in his 83rd years and had lived through the atrocities of The Second World War.

Jung then goes on to point out what he considers the worst catastrophe of modern living, namely that humankind has almost totally forgotten that it has a shadow side.  It is through the integration of the shadow or evil side to us into the psyche that we can become whole (holy, one, integrated, individuated).  When we neglect the shadow we begin to externalize it and project it out onto others as Hitler and the Nazis did with the Jews and all other "lesser forms of life!" as this brutal régime would have it.

Neglect of Instincts leads to Ill-health both Mental and Physical

This hardly needs to be said nowadays, but Jung is right to remind his readers that when we neglect the Unconscious, the Gut, the Instincts, the Unconscious, the Heart, the Feeling side of us and allow the Conscious side, the Head, the Thinking side or the Rational part to have an upper hand we are setting ourselves up for illness - either physical or mental.  Physical in so far as all neglect of the psyche leads to psychosomatic problems which come to a head in heart attacks, ulcers, blood pressure, strokes and so on.  Mental in so far as one can pick from as many forms of neuroses that one wishes: unipolar depression, OCD and a myriad of phobias which as many strange names as anyone could care to remember.  In short Jung says:

Violation or neglect of instinct has painful consequences of a physiological and psychological nature for whose removal medical help, above all, is required. (Ibid., p. 59)
Forgetting what is of our Nature or Natural

As I have pointed out this is not a textbook or indeed a book for the cognoscenti.  Rather it is one for the general public or for the lay person.  Hence, Jung has avoided practically all learned terms and jargon of any type.  That's why this book is an ideal introduction to his thought in general for the beginner student of his work.  He tends, like a good teacher or lecturer, to repeat his points in many different ways.  I remember once reading some criticism written by the great Anglo-American poet Thomas Stearns Eliot where he reponded rather profoundly, if not wittily, to a criticism of his work which stated that he had repeated his themes very often.  Eliot replied that even though he did, he always said it in an entirely different way.  There is a lot of wisdom in those words from the modernist poet.  In like manner, Jung also repeats his points in many different ways.  This I find good as it holds my attention and teaches me to grasp his points better.

He returns again to the point that if we do not deal with the integration of our shadow side we will externalize it in the world out there by projecting onto others as Hitler and the Nazis did with the Jews and so on.  Also he maintains that we will then use the Leader as our scapegoat and blame him for the faults of our own shadow, for our own temptations and even our own weak surrender to evil in its many forms.

Again, he returns to the nature of humanity, namely that it has an Animal (instinctual, gut, heart, feeling, driven or irrational) side as well as a Human one (Rational, Cortical, Sophisticated, Educated, Intellectual).  The first he points out is an objective reality while the second is wholly subjective.  This, for this reader, was an insightful comment from which he has learned much about both the nature of consciousness and that of the unconscious:

The forlorness of consciousnbess in our world is due primarily to the loss of instinct, and the reason for this lies in the development of the hu,man mind over the past aeon.  The more powerv man has over nature, the more his knowledge and skill went to his head,l and the deeper became his comntempt for the merely natural and accidental, for that which is irrationally given - including the objective psyche, which is all that consciousness is not.  In contrast to the subjectiveism of the conscious mind the unconscious is objective, manifesting mainly in the form of contrary feelings, fantasies, emotions,, impulses and dreams, none of which one makes oneself but which come upon one objectively... It seems a positive menace to the ego that its monarchy can be doubted.  The religious person, on the other hand, is accustomed to the thought of not being sole master in his own house.  He beliueves that God, and not himself, decides in the end.  (Ibid.,. p. 61)
In the above we see that Jung sees Religion as having very much a psychic role.  He sees it as a firmly Irrational stance towards the conscious world.  In fact, he states at various junctures in this little classic that Religion as such is essentially a psychic tool that keep humankind aware of the duality (or duplex-ness, or even duplicity??) of his nature that is essentially is split between the Conscious and the Unconscious.  In so doing, it performs a necessary function in so far as it balances the human psyche in the hopes that through deep personal work that human being may learn to integrate both aspects of the psyche into a integral whole in the process of Individuation.  Again Jung has little time for Religion as a Theism or a mere list of tenets, doctrines or dogmas which for him, though important, are solely signs and synmbols never to be taken literally because they point always to the psychic reality of the great collective unconscious as well as the small individual one.  He finishes this altogether interesting and most chapter by alluding to the true nature of Religion in the experience of a relationship with the transcendent, or quite simply Religious experience is essentially a psychic reality which works to keep the human psyche balanced!

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