To Henry D. Isaac
Dear Herr Isaac, 25 October 1954
Your question is indeed most timely, for it is highly unlikely that any social measures and proposals will make the individual more conscious, more conscientious and more responsible but will have the opposite effect, because all agglomerations of individuals show a distinct tendency to lower the level of individual consciousness.
Hence all advice that begins with “you ought” usually proves to be completely ineffective.
This hangs together with the obvious fact that only the individual is the carrier of virtues but not the mass.
Today this supremely important vehicle of the social function is imperiled by our whole culture, or rather unculture.
If the individual could be improved, it seems to me that a foundation would be laid for an improvement of the whole.
Even a million noughts do not add up to one.
I therefore espouse the unpopular view that a better understanding in the world can come only from the individual and be promoted only by him.
But considering the vast numbers involved, this truth looks like a counsel of despair and futility.
Supposing, however, that anyone did want to make his infinitesimal contribution to the desired ideal, he would have to be in a position really to understand another person.
The indispensable precondition for this is that he understands himself.
If he doesn’t, he will inevitably see the other person through the deceptive and distorting lens of his own prejudices and projections and will recommend and impute to him the very things he most needs himself.
So we must understand ourselves to a certain extent if we want any real communication with others.
Today there are a whole lot of things which an adult ought to know in order to be equipped for life.
He is supposed to have picked them up in his schooldays, but then he was much too young to understand them, and later there is nothing to prompt him to go back to school again.
Usually he has no time for that.
Nobody brings him any useful knowledge in this respect, and he remains in a state of childish ignorance.
We should have schools for adults, where one could inculcate into them at least the elements of self-knowledge and knowledge of human nature.
I have made this suggestion often enough, but it has remained a pious wish although everyone admits in theory that without self-knowledge there can be no general understanding.
Ways and means would surely be found if it were some technological problem.
But since it is merely the most important thing of all, the human psyche and human relationships, that is
at issue, there are neither teachers nor pupils, neither schools nor refresher courses, and everything is shrugged off with “you ought.”
That everyone ought to begin with himself is much too unpopular and so everything stays as it is.
Only when people get so nervous that the doctor diagnoses a neurosis do they go to a specialist, whose medical horizon usually does not include social responsibility.
Unfortunately the so-called religions have never proved to be vehicles of general human understanding, since with few exceptions they suffer from totalitarian claims and in this respect at least hardly differ from any other -ism, and actually disrupt human relationships at the critical point.
If one is in the position of a doctor, as I am, to become intimately acquainted with very many educated people, one is continually amazed at the terrifying unconsciousness of modern civilized man.
Contemporary science can give such people any amount of enlightening knowledge about things they should have known right at the beginning of their social life but had no chance to acquire.
Instead of knowing, they had to be content with ridiculous prejudices and preconceived opinions.
Our whole society is split up by specialism, and the self-serving professions are so differentiated that none of them knows what the other is doing.
There’s nothing to be hoped for from the universities, since they turn out only specialists.
Even psychology gives no thought to the unity of man, but has split into countless subdivisions each with its own tests and specialist theories.
Anyone who sought the wisdom that is needed would soon find himself in the situation of old Diogenes, who went looking for a man on the marketplace of Athens in broad daylight with a lantern in his hand.
I think this is all I have to say about the present state of human understanding.
C.G. Jung ~Carl Jung, Letters Vol. II, Pages 189-191.