Tuesday, July 7, 2009


Jung's Timeliness and Thoughts on Our Current Reality
Sometimes, in reading Jung, I encounter a passage that makes me think Jung wrote it just yesterday. Recently, while preparing a presentation for the Jung Society for Scholarly Studies symposium at Cornell University, I came across the following quote from “Civilization in Transition:”

Thanks to industrialization, large portions of the population were uprooted and were herded together in large centers. This new form of existence—with its mass psychology and social dependence on the fluctuation of markets and wages—produced an individual who was unstable, insecure, and suggestible. He was aware that his life depended on boards of directors and captains of industry, and he supposed, rightly or wrongly, that they were chiefly motivated by financial interests. He knew that, no matter how conscientiously he worked, he could still fall a victim at any moment to economic changes which were utterly beyond his control. And there was nothing else for him to rely on....[1] Jung wrote these words for a BBC broadcast he gave in 1946,[2] but, given our recent history, they seem as relevant in 2009 as they were 63 years ago. How prescient Jung was! He could see the fragility of the industrial system and how vulnerable it has left the vast majority of people in the modern world.
Ever the clinician concerned to relieve suffering in the world, Jung was not content simply to diagnose problems; he offered suggestions as to what we might do to improve our situation. Some of these suggestions include wising up to the dangerous features of our current reality, addressing the problem of “mass-mindedness,” and achieving a metanoia, or fundamental mind change.

Wising Up to the Dangerous Features of Our Current Reality
Jung summarized many of what he felt were dangerous features of Western civilization in the above passage. In the manner of the French explication de texte,[3] let’s draw out Jung’s wisdom phrase by phrase.

“Large portions of the population were uprooted...”: Jung regarded the rootlessness of modern people as “one of the greatest psychic dangers... a disaster not only for primitive tribes but for civilized man as well.”[4] Why a disaster? Jung felt rootlessness would lead to “... a hybris of the conscious mind which manifests itself in the form of exaggerated self-esteem or an inferiority complex. At all events a loss of balance ensues, and this is the most fruitful soil for psychic injury.”[5]

“herded together in large centers.”: Jung refers here to big cities, the megalopolises of the modern world, and he felt such “herding” of people caused all sorts of social and mental pathologies, a tendency to “thinking in large numbers” and the rise of “mass psychology”[6]—all regrettable and dangerous features of modern life.

“...dependence on the fluctuation of markets and wages”: Jung recognized that we have become so dependent because of the “externalization of culture”[7]—the result of the Extraverted bias of Western culture (most especially in America).[8] Our “materialistic technology and commercial acquisitiveness”[9] has led to “a loss of spiritual culture.”[10] Jung was quite explicit about the dangers in such dependence on externals: The man whose interests are all outside is never satisfied with what is necessary, but is perpetually hankering after something more and better which, true to his bias, he always seeks outside himself. He forgets completely that, for all his outward successes, he himself remains the same inwardly, and he therefore laments his poverty if he possesses only one automobile when the majority have two. Obviously the outward lives of men could do with a lot more bettering and beautifying, but these things lose their meaning when the inner man does not keep pace with them. To be satisfied with “necessities” is no doubt an inestimable source of happiness, yet the inner man continues to raise his claim, and this can be satisfied by no outward possession. And the less this voice is heard in the chase after the brilliant things of this world, the more the inner man becomes the source of inexplicable misfortune and uncomprehended unhappiness in the midst of living conditions whose outcome was expected to be entirely different. The externalization of life turns to incurable suffering, because no one can understand why he should suffer from himself. No one wonders at his insatiability, but regards it as his lawful right, never thinking that the one-sidedness of this psychic diet leads in the end to the gravest disturbances of equilibrium. That is the sickness of Western man, and he will not rest until he has infected the whole world with his own greedy restlessness.[11]

The economic meltdown of 2008 brought home the truth of Jung’s insight: the “captains of industry” (most of them in the United States), “chiefly motivated by financial interests” did indeed “infect” the entire planet with their greedy materialism.[12] One concomitant of such materialism is “... the spiritual confusion of our modern world.”[13] Another has been “the hollowing out of money, which in the near future will make all savings illusory...”[14]. A third is the emptiness of Western materialistic values,[15] which has led to the degeneration of the individual personality.[16] Jung speaks to this in his reference to “... an individual who was unstable, insecure and suggestible.”: Our Western over-valuation of logic, reason and science is both a result of and a further cause for our lack of self-knowledge and valuation of the inner man. We put great store on being “with it,” following fads and fashions with increasing susceptibility to the omnipresent influence of the media. Lacking inner anchors, we become more and more suggestible, especially as our cities get larger and larger: “The majority of normal people (quite apart from the 10 per cent or so who are inferior) are ridiculously unconscious and naive and are open to any passing suggestion.... The more people live together in heaps, the stupider and more suggestible the individual becomes.”[17]
“...he could still fall victim at any moment to economic changes which were utterly beyond his control.”: Jung noted elsewhere “the longing for security in an age of insecurity.”[18] Being “cogs in the wheel” of the industrialized world model, we feel disempowered, which is the essence of the “victim” archetype.

“And there was nothing else for him to rely on.”: In our world “full of trouble and disorientation,”[19] “confusion and disintegration,”[20] “uneasiness and fear,”[21] we are without firm defenses. Jung felt this was in part due to “current trends in education that foster mass thinking and a collective orientation.”[22] This was one of Jung’s major bugaboos, another key feature of our time and a theme Jung stressed over and over as a major danger we had to recognize and address.

Addressing the Problem of “Mass-Mindedness”
Jung regarded “mass-mindedness” as a danger,[23] and mass psychology as a “dangerous germ.”[24] Why? What’s so dangerous about large groups and crowds?
Jung felt crowds let loose “the dynamisms of the collective man... beasts or demons that lie dormant in every person until he is part of a mob.”[25] Large groups blot out individual morality[26] and cause individuals’ consciousness to sink to a lower level.[27] Crowds stir up fears,[28] which can lead to a whole population having “...a feeling of catastrophe in the air.”[29] Crowds and groups induce “infantile behavior” in people who would otherwise behave in mature and responsible ways.[30] Crowds cause “even the best man to lose his value and meaning,”[31] and lead individuals to become “stultified”[32] and their personalities to “degenerate.”[33] Lacking any self-reflection,[34] large groups of people make individuals “psychically abnormal.”[35] Moved by impersonal, overwhelming forces,[36] mobs produce “herd psychology”[37] and the “mass man.”[38]
Jung repeatedly decried the rise of “mass man.” Such a person is infantile in his behavior,[39] “unreasonable, irresponsible, emotional, erratic and unreliable.”[40] In the mass, the individual looses his value[41] and becomes the victims of “-isms.”[42] Claiming no sense of responsibility for his actions,[43] mass man finds it easy to commit appalling crimes without thinking,[44] and grows increasingly dependent on the state.[45]

Jung felt that the larger the size of the group, the greater the dangers, because the lower the overall level of consciousness.[46] The individual thrust into a large crowd would be hard put indeed to resist the pull into unconsciousness and would soon manifest “psychic abnormality.”[47] Jung saw all this play out in the atrocities of World Wars I and II. He would not be surprised by similar events in the Iran-Iraq war, the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, and in the current “war” on terrorism.[48]

Resisting mass-mindedness is not easy, but Jung provided us with some suggestions on how to do it. First, we must give up belief in “the sovereign remedy of mass action.”[49] How tempting it is to focus on outer change, to reform what’s “out there”, to seek mass change! Jung would have none of that. He urges us not to depend on groups or large organizations, and most especially, not to look to the state or nation for our deliverance, since this only fosters more mass-mindedness.[50] Rather we must resist trying any collective measures.[51]
Second, he suggests we work to break up large organizations that “eat away at the individual’s nature.”[52] How to do this? Jung is not specific but a simple personal response would be to refuse to join forces with such organizations: take work in small companies, join local groups (which may be affiliated with national or international groups), be self-employed. Support local businesses (most of which are smaller in size that the “big box” retailers and chains). Participate in organizations that understand the value of smallness, like the Jungian Center. We recognize the truth of Jung’s words here and put a premium on smallness. “Small is beautiful”[53] is one of the Center’s stated values.
Most important in resisting mass-mindedness is the re-valuation of the individual. Jung urges us to emphasize and increase the value of the individual person. The individual life is the essential thing, Jung tells us.[54] The salvation of the world lies in the salvation of the individual.[55] We must recognize the whole man and begin with healing ourselves if we wish to heal the world.[56]
To do this, of course, prompts a fourth suggestion Jung makes: work for a fundamental metanoia, or change of consciousness.[57] What does Jung mean by this, and how might we go about achieving it?

Achieving a Metanoia
In this context, metanoia means for Jung changing our focus, our attitude and our values. In terms of our focus, we must shift from a focus on externals—on what’s out there—to a focus on internals—what’s going on inside me. Given the extraverted bias of American culture (with 75% of Americans being Extraverts, in the Jungian typology),[58] this is not something that will come naturally. Most people will have to make a conscious effort to achieve this shift.

The external world does not hold the solution, since anything external is vulnerable to loss. Jesus reminds us of this in his admonition:
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matt 6:19-21)

Jung knew what Jesus meant by “treasures in heaven.” These are the eternal spiritual truths that lie rooted in the world within us. These include our awareness of the reality of the psyche and its wisdom; our recognizing that the psyche is real, wise, powerful and the source of our being.[59] Jung went so far as to proclaim that “the psyche is the indispensable instrument in the reorganization of a civilized community.”[60]

In terms of our attitude, we have to transform our stress on materialism and matter to one stressing intangibles and things of the spirit. Again, given the bias toward Sensation in American culture (with three-quarters of all Americans being Sensates, in the Jungian typology),[61] this will not be an easy shift to make. But it is an essential shift because it fosters the discovery of our inner life, the reality of the psyche and the valuation of intuition.
In terms of our values, we have to give up the belief that “bigger is better.” Mass action is not the solution. State action is not the solution. Collective action is not the solution to what really ails our world, as we noted above, in the discussion of Jung’s warnings against mass-mindedness.
How to achieve the metanoia Jung calls for? One of the best ways, Jung felt, is working with dreams.[62] A regular, disciplined dream work practice provides us with the necessary personal experience of our soul’s guidance, care, direction and love for us. This is the source of true stability and security, a “treasure” that can’t rust, be eaten or stolen from us. By internalizing a locus of security for ourselves we become psychologically free of dependence on externals, like those boards of directors and captains of industry and whatever antics, crimes or sins they may commit.
The regular practice of working with our dreams allows us to discover our inner life, and this discovery is a major counterweight to the materialism of our culture. When we watch the psyche’s creativity and insight unfold for us every night in our dreams no longer can we believe that matter is all there is in life. Nor can we remain as we were: we grow, we “individuate.”
An active dream practice also helps us to lead the “responsible life” that Jung saw as a consequence of individuation.[63] As we become more and more who we truly are, in the process of individuation, we become more and more conscious of our duties to our community. The process, in other words, does not take us into isolation or estrangement from society, but rather makes us aware of how we all are one, in complex webs of interdependence.

There may be changes underway now in our global reality that seem far beyond our power as individuals to control or even to influence.[64] But this does not mean that we should see ourselves as victims. Nor should we feel there is nothing for us to rely on.
Jung urges us to remember that we can rely on the psyche, our soul, our inner life, our inner guidance. We have within us what we need to feel safe, to prepare for whatever the future may bring, to thrive in the years ahead. The answers we need to the questions we have are not to be found without, in other people or the busy-ness and diversions of our society. Rather, our answers lie within. As Jung said, “Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.”[65]
The critical challenges of our time require us to be awake, to become conscious of the unconscious, to plumb the depths of our own hearts and to take the full measure of our being (which is always far, far more than what the ego mind thinks it is). We must turn to our inner wisdom, not to outside “experts.” In these times of widespread confusion and anxiety, it is not for us to be left feeling like Jung’s description of modern man, with “nothing left for him to rely on....”. The psyche is real. Your soul is real. You can rely on it. This is Jung’s great message for us in this challenging time.

Jung, Carl, (1960), ”The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche,” CW 8. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
________ (1959), ”The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious,” CW 9i. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
________ (1959), “Aion,” Collected Works, 9ii. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
________ (1970), “Civilization in Transition,” CW 10. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
________ (1969), “Psychology and Religion: West and East,” CW 11. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
________ (1954), “The Practice of Psychotherapy,” CW 16. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
________ (1976), ”The Symbolic Life,” CW 18. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Keirsey, David & Marilyn Bates (1984), Please Understand Me. Del Mar CA: Prometheus Nemesis Books.
Schumacher, E.F. (1973), Small Is Beautiful: Economics As If People Mattered. New York: Harper & Row.
Tart, Charles (1987), Waking Up: Overcoming the Obstacles to Human Potential. Boston: Shambhala.

[1] “The Fight with the Shadow,” CW 10, ¶453.
[2] Ibid., footnote 1, p. 218.
[3] This is a method of textual analysis often used in French lyceés, in which the literary scholar goes word-by-word or phrase-by-phrase, considering the possible meanings, allusions or insights in each word or phrase. I learned this method at Yale.
[4] “Psychotherapy Today,” CW 16, ¶216.
[5] Ibid.
[6] “The Fight with the Shadow,” CW 10, ¶457.
[7] “The Holy Men of India,” CW 11, ¶962.
[8] Keirsey & Bates (1984), 16. Keirsey and Bates claim that 75% of Americans type as Extraverts.
[9] “The Holy Men of India,” CW 11, ¶962.
[10] Ibid.
[11] Ibid.
[12] Mortgage-backed securities, sold by Triple-A investment quality bonds to risk-averse investors from Norway to Australia, are one of the most flagrant examples of Wall Street’s greed.
[13] “The Meaning of Psychology for Modern Man,” CW 10, ¶313.
[14] “Psychology and National Problems,” CW 18, ¶1320. By the phrase “hollowing out of money” Jung could have been referring to the phenomenon of inflation, but more problematic for us, since the abandonment of the gold standard in 1971 (10 years after Jung died), is the completely fiduciary nature of the world’s currencies. Nothing but faith in the economic viability of the issuing nation now supports the value of the dollar, the Euro, the yen, the renminbi etc. Jung predicted problems in this regard. I think we haven’t seen the half of it!
[15] “The Holy Men of India,” CW 11, ¶962.
[16] “The Psychology of the Transference,” CW 16, ¶502.
[17] “Answers to “Mishmar” on Adolf Hitler,” CW 18, ¶1386.
[18] “The Spiritual Problem of Modern Man,” CW 10, ¶190.
[19] “The Tavistock Lectures. Lecture V,” CW 18, ¶369.
[20] “The Psychology of the Transference,” CW 16, ¶539.
[21] “Psychology and Religion,” CW 11, ¶84.
[22] “Principles of Practical Psychotherapy,” CW 16, ¶5.
[23] “Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth,” CW 10, ¶723.
[24] “The Fight with the Shadow,” CW 10, ¶453.
[25] “Epilogue to ‘Essays on Contemporary Events’,” CW 10, ¶463.
[26] Ibid., ¶460.
[27] Ibid., ¶463.
[28] Ibid.
[29] “The Meaning of Psychology for Modern Man,” CW 10, ¶326.
[30] “Psychology and National Problems,” CW 18, ¶1313
[31] “Return to the Simple Life,” CW 18, ¶1351.
[32] “The Psychology of the Transference,” CW 16, ¶443.
[33] Ibid., ¶502.
[34] “The Meaning of Psychology for Modern Man,” CW 10, ¶326.
[35] “Epilogue to ‘Essays on Contemporary Events’,” CW 10, ¶477.
[36] Ibid., ¶463.
[37] “Principles of Practical Psychotherapy,” CW 16, ¶4.
[38] “On the Nature of the Psyche,” CW 8, ¶410.
[39] “Psychology and National Problems,” CW 18, ¶1313.
[40] Ibid., ¶1315.
[41] “Return to the Simple Life,” CW 18, ¶1351.
[42] “On the Nature of the Psyche,” CW 8, ¶425.
[43] Ibid., ¶410.
[44] “Aion,” CW 9ii, ¶255.
[45] “After the Catastrophe,” CW 10, ¶413.
[46] “The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious,” CW 9i, ¶225.
[47] “Epilogue to ‘Essays on Contemporary Events’,” CW 10, ¶477.
[48] In all of these events groups committed atrocities, from the use of chemical warfare by Saddam Hussein in the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war, to Abu Ghraib and the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
[49] “The Undiscovered Self,” CW 10, ¶535.
[50] “After the Catastrophe,” CW 10, ¶413.
[51] “Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth,” CW 10, ¶719.
[52] Ibid.
[53] This is also the title of a classic work of social criticism by E.F. Schumacher; see Schumacher (1973).
[54]“The Meaning of Psychology for Modern Man,” CW 10, ¶315.
[55] “The Undiscovered Self,” CW 10, ¶536.
[56] “Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth,” CW 10, ¶719.
[57] Ibid.
[58] Keirsey & Bates (1984), 16.
[59] “The Meaning of Psychology for Modern Man,” CW 10, ¶316 & 326.
[60] “The Psychology of the Transference,” CW 16, ¶539.
[61] Keirsey & Bates (1984), 17.
[62] “The Meaning of Psychology for Modern Man,” CW 10, ¶306 & 313.
[63] “Return to the Simple Life,” CW 18, ¶1351.
[64] There will be further discussion of these changes in coming essays on this blog space.
[65] By describing the process of becoming conscious in terms of waking up, Jung parallels the thought of the Russian mystic and teacher G.I. Gurdjieff; see Tart (1987).
-Submitted by Sue Mehrtens

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