Sunday, February 06, 2011

A Short Jungian Interlude 8

Memories of older days on the Sea: Soverato, Jan 2011

I have long been a lover of philosophy - since my eighteenth year to be precise.  For the following four years this subject would be one of the subjects I studied for my primary degree.  My love for this subject has never left me.  When we started out we were given the many often quoted aphorisms with respect to this important subject.  We were told that philosophy meant literally and etymologically "the love of wisdom," and that it "begins in wonder and ends in wisdom."  Another aphorism we were taught was the Ancient Greek one "Know thyself",  along with the Greek characters: γνῶθι σεαυτόν or rendered into English characters for ease of remembrance: gnōthi seauton.  Apparently this adage was  inscribed in the pronaos (forecourt) of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. 

Then we had a very brilliant philosophy teacher whom I have mentioned often in these pages, and he introduced us to the Socratic method, that searching, logically structured and questioning approach to the Truth.  This has meant that I have had a life-long fascination with the Greek philosophers.  In Plato's Apology (pologhma) we learned all about Socrates' wonderful defense of his conduct as a philosopher and a pursuer of Truth in life.  Indeed, that this man was an authentic individual is without doubt.  That's what makes him a man for all ages and an intellectual and spiritual leader for many.  Socrates'  wisdom, we learnt, was a type of ignorance: an open awareness of his own intellectual shortcomings.  This is a wonderful starting point for learning anything new.

The goal of Socratic interrogation, then, is to help individuals to achieve genuine self-knowledge: even if that meant learning all about their faults and shortcomings as well as their strengths.  Then, under the excellent tutelage of Rev Patrick Carmody, M.A., M.Phil., we went on to learn the provenance of that other oft-quoted philosophical aphorism from Socrates, namely: "The unexamined life is not worth living."  That adage occurs in the following context: Even after he has been convicted by the jury, Socrates declined to abandon his pursuit of the truth in all matters. Refusing to accept exile from Athens or a commitment to silence as his penalty, he maintained that public discussion of the great issues of life and virtue was a necessary part of any valuable human life. "The unexamined life is not worth living." (Apology 38a) Our brave Ancient Greek philosopher would rather die than give up philosophy, and the jury was happy to grant him that wish.

Back to Jung:

In the shadows - Fontana di Trevi, Roma, Dicembre, 2010
I have already mentioned that Carl Gustave Jung refers to absolutely no other scholar or philosopher in his book The Undiscovered Self.  Rather, this book is sort of a testament to his own life and to his own deep convictions about psychology and psychotherapy in all its various incarnations, and especially in his very own therapy called analytical psychology.  It is a book written for the lay person, and consequently it serves as a very good introduction to his work.  However, we will find many overlaps in what he has to say in chapter 6, entitled Self-Knowledge with the contents of my introductory words.

The Weight of Evil:  The Human Shadow

It is hard to blame Jung for concentrating on the propensity for evil that exists in the human heart.  After all this book was written at the height of The Cold War in 1957, barely 20 years after the bloodbath of The Second World War and the horrors of the Holocaust of Innocent Jews as well as that of many other minorities.  The shadow of evil was psychically palpable to the more sensitive members of the human race and Jung was among the most sensitive in this regard.  The harsh reality, though, was that most Germans, and indeed other nationalities, were in denial of their responsibilities for any of this evil.  There is nothing new in this, at all.  We can but agree with our psychiatrist scholar that denial of guilt is common to all humankind.  As Dr. House says in an early programme in that series: "We all lie.  There's no one that doesn't!"

I am deliberately skipping the first four or five pages of this chapter as they deal essentially with the religious nature of humankind, but will return to it at the end after I have dealt with the reality of the almost universally denied Shadow that lurks in each one of us.  In Jungian thought, and the present writer finds it hard to deny this stark truth, wars are the result of humanity's failure to deal with its own shadow on an individual basis.  Instead of integrating it in the psyche it seeks to externalize it in evil out there, by demonizing others.  I read the following words with deep acceptance because these and others must be said, and repeated very often for us to come to our senses:

The horror which dictator states have of late brought upon mankind is nothing less the culmination of all those atrocities  of which our ancestors made themselves guilty in the not so distant past.  Quite apart from the barbarities and blood baths perpetrated by the Christian nations among themselves throughout European history, the European has also to answer for all the crimes he has committed against dark-skinned peoples during the process of colonization.  In this respect the white man carries a very heavy burden indeed.  It shows us a picture of the common human shadow that could hardly be painted in blacker colours.  The evil that comes to light in man and that undoubtedly dwells within him is of gigantic proportions, so for the Church to talk of original sin and to trace it back to Adam's relatively innocent slip up with Eve is almost a euphemism.  The case is far graver and is grossly underestimated.  (Op. cit., p. 67)

Humankind's Ignorance and its Denial of Knowledge of Evil

What adds to the problem of evil is each individual's lack of true or real knowledge of his/her own soul.  Some of us are not aware at all of the Shadow at work in the psyche, while others are in denial of this reality completely.  Universally almost humankind believes that it is merely what its consciousness knows of itself.  In other words once again human beings are living a one-dimensional life, namely merely a conscious one and are forgetting about or actively denying even, that we have an unconscious level to our psyche too.  As Jung says elsewhere in this short wonderful classic - we are duplex, not simplex creatures.  The level of evil in the world all boils down to humanity's failure to take on board this duplex nature of his psyche which is at once Conscious and Unconscious, Rational and Irrational, Head and Heart, Thinking and Feeling, Head and Gut - call this a principle of opposites if you wish.  Real self-knowledge means that one sets about integrating the two poles by keeping them in a healthy tension as it were.  Jung argues that humankind adds stupidity to his iniquity when s/he regards himself/herself as harmless or innocent.  None of us is harmless or innocent!

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