Monday, February 1, 2010

Jung on Saving the World

I realize it does not go without saying that, as an activist and student of social justice, non-violence, wars and revolutions, my interest in and dedication to Jung's work is not an intellectual divergence, but a natural progression.

Whatever people may know about Jung, be it his contribution to the our lexicon with concepts such as archetypes and complexes, introversion and extroversion, the collective unconscious, and advances in dream interpretation, they may not know that his work was rooted in his belief that advances in the world's path towards peace will only come through the work of each individual, one by one.

For Jung, as for me, psychology is not simply intellectualizing about the human condition, nor is the clinical application intended only to heal psychic wounds. The work, at its best, may be the only work that can help us to understand the insanity of which we are all capable of perpetrating, or unconsciously accepting and signing-on to. We forget that we are like ants, a super-organism in an interconnected human community, capable of destroying ourselves and each other with little effort. It is not only the Hitlers of the world to whom we can point and claim insanity. It is the millions who followed him, in large or small ways, drawn-in psychologically themselves to the cruelty and unconsciousness that he preached. He who thinks he is immune to these movements of viral insanity is one of whom all others should be wary.

As Jung wrote in his autobiography regarding the situation in WWII,
Today we need psychology for reasons that involve our very existence. We stand perplexed and stupefied before the phenomenon of Nazism and Bolshevism because we know nothing about man, or at any rate have only a lopsided and distorted picture of him. If we had self-knowledge, that would not be the case. We stand face to face with the terrible question of evil and do not even know what it is before us, let alone what to pit against it. (1961/1963, p. 331)
The situation is, of course, no less dire today than it was in his time. The work, therefore, is to make our understanding of our own unconsciousness, conscious work.
As Jung wrote in 1958 in The Undiscovered Self,
The spiritual transformation of mankind follows the slow tread of the centuries and cannot be hurried or held up by any rational process of reflection, let alone brought to fruition in one generation. What does lie within our reach, however, is the change in individuals who have, or create for themselves, an opportunity to influence others of like mind. I do not mean by persuading or preaching—I am thinking, rather, of the well-known fact that anyone who has insight into his own actions, and has thus found access to the unconscious, involuntarily exercises an influence on his environment. The deepening and broadening of his consciousness produce. . . .an unintentional influence on the unconscious of others, a sort of unconscious prestige. (par. 583)
Or, as analyst David Hart wrote in an essay in The Cambridge Companion to Jung, “it is only in the individual that the growth of consciousness can occur, and thus only there that a promise exists of improving the lot of mankind” (1997, p. 95).

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