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Carl Jung “Misery is relative.”


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C.G. Jung Letters, Vol. 1: 1906-1950

To Dorothy Thornpson

Dear Mrs. Thompson, 23 September 1949

It is a pleasure to receive the letter of a normally intelligent person in contrast to the evil flood of idiotic and malevolent insinuations I seemed to have released in the U.S.A.

Well, you know I am just as deeply concerned with the extraordinary as well as uncanny situation of the world as you are yourself.

(By the way, I have read quite a number of your political comments and admired their practical intelligence and common sense!)

I could say quite a lot about the actual dilemma of the world from my psychological point of view.

But I am afraid it would lead too far afield into realms of psychological intricacies which would demand a great amount of explanation.

I will try to be simple.

A political situation is the manifestation of a parallel psychological problem in millions of individuals.

This problem is largely unconscious (which makes it a particularly dangerous one!).

It consists of a conflict between a conscious (ethical, religious, philosophical, social, political, and psychological) standpoint and an unconscious one which is characterized by the same aspects but represented in a “lower,” i.e.more archaic form.

Instead of “high” Christian ethics, the laws of the herd, suppression of individual responsibility and submission to the tribal chief totalitarian ethics).

Instead of religion, superstitious belief in an ad hoc doctrine or truth; instead of philosophy, a low-grade doctrinary system which “rationalizes” the appetites of the herd; instead of a differentiated social organization, a meaningless chaotic agglomeration of uprooted individuals kept under by sheer force and terror and blindfolded by appropriate lies; instead of a constructive use of political power with the aim of attaining an equilibrium of freely developing forces, a destructive tendency to extend suppression over the whole world through attaining mere superiority of power; instead of psychology, use of psychological means to extinguish the individual spark and to inhibit the development of consciousness and intelligence.

You find this conflict in nearly every citizen of any Western nation.

But one is mostly unconscious of it.

In Russia, which has always been a barbarous country, the unconscious half of the conflict has reached the surface and has replaced civilized consciousness.

That is what we fear might happen to ourselves too.

We are afraid of this schizophrenia all the more since Germany has clearly demonstrated that even a civilized community can be seized by such a mental catastrophe as
it were overnight (which proves my point).

Thus we have got to realize:

  1. We are not immune.
  2. The destructive powers are right there in ourselves.
    3• The more unconscious they are, the more dangerous.
    4• We are threatened from within as well as from without.
    5• We cannot destroy the enemy by force; we should not even try to overcome Russia, because we would destroy ourselves, since Russia is-as it were-identical with our unconscious, which contains our instincts and all the germs of our future development
  3. The unconscious must be slowly integrated without violence and with due respect for our ethical values. This needs many alterations in our religious and philosophical views.

The West is forced to rearmament.

We have to be ready for the worst. Europe must be organized by the U.S.A. a tort et a travers if needs be.

And it will be of vital importance to the U.S.A.

But no attack ! Under no condition!

Russia can only defeat herself.

We cannot defeat our instincts, but they can inhibit each other and they do if you allow them to run freely within certain limits, i.e., only so far that they don’t just kill you.

You shoot when you are threatened in your very existence, not when you are merely hurt in your feelings or in your traditional convictions.

The accumulation of weapons, though indispensable, is a great temptation to use them.

Therefore watch the military advisers!

They will itch to pull the trigger.

Russia is certainly on the warpath and it is only fear of those who are in the know that holds her back.

country is already at war with Russia, like the drole de guerre 1939/40.

There is no reason and no diplomacy that will effectively deal with Russia, because there is an elementary drive in her (as was the case with Hitler!).

I see the main trouble not in Russia but in Europe, which has become a vital extension of the U.S.A.

The great question is whether the historically differentiated nations of Europe can be sufficiently welded together to form a unified bloc.

Apart from military defensive measures the organization of Europe forms the foremost and most difficult task of American policy.

I should like to call your attention to my little book: Essays on Contemporary Events (Kegan Paul, London, 1947), where you will find some further contributions to the great problem of our time.

It seems to me that at the bottom of all these problems lies the development of science and technology, which has destroyed man’s metaphysical foundation.

Social welfare has replaced the kingdom of God.

Earthly happiness can only be attained through somebody else’s misfortune, as wealth grows at the expense of poverty.

“Social welfare” has become the lure, the bait and the slogan for the uprooted masses, which can only think in terms of personal needs and resentments; but they don’t see that there is no escape from the law of compensation.

Their Marxist philosophy is based upon the conviction that the river once in the future can be persuaded to flow upwards.

They don’t see that they themselves have to pay for this stunt by unending suffering.

Much better to know, therefore, that life on this earth is balanced between an equal amount of pleasure and misery, even when it is at its best, and that real progress is only the psychological adaptation to the various forms of individual misery.

Misery is relative.

When many people possess two cars, the man with only one car is a proletarian deprived of the goods of this world and therefore entitled to overthrow the social order.

Germany was not in possession of world-supremacy, therefore she was a “have-not.”

We all think in terms of social welfare.

That is the big mistake, because the more you economize on the vulgar forms of misery, the more you are ensnared by new, unexpected, complicated, intricate, incomprehensible variants of unhappiness such as you have never dreamt of before.

Think of the almost uncanny increase of divorces and neuroses!

I must say I prefer a modest poverty or any tangible discomfort (f.i. no bathroom, no electricity, no car, etc.) to those pests.

The bit of social progress attained by Nazi Germany and Russia is compensated for by police terror, a new and very considerable item on the list of miseries, but an inevitable consequence of “social welfare.”

Why not “spiritual welfare”?

There is no government on earth bothering much about it.

Yet spiritual adjustment is the problem.

If we understand what Russia is in ourselves, we know how to deal with her politically.

Ancient Rome, not knowing how to deal with its own social problem, viz. slavery, succumbed to the onslaught of barbarous tribes.

The Christian Middle Ages withstood the first Asiatic wave and the second (the Turks).

Now the world is confronted with the third.

The great danger is that we are not up to our own spiritual problem like old Rome.

Technology and “social welfare” provide nothing to overcome our spiritual stagnation, and they give us no answer to our spiritual dissatisfaction and restlessness, on account of which we are threatened from within as from without.

We have not understood yet that the discovery of the unconscious means an enormous spiritual task, which must be accomplished if we wish to preserve our civilization.

I hope you will forgive the unsystematic way in which I represent my ideas you wanted to hear of.

My attempt is, I know, very incomplete, but I cannot write a whole book.

Nevertheless I hope that you can perceive at least something.

Yours sincerely,

C.G. Jung ~Carl Jung, Letters Vol. 1, Pages 534-537.

Dorothy Thompson(1894-19 61), American journalist; worked as a reporter in Germany but was expelled in 1934 because of her anti-Nazi sentiments.

Note: An acrimonious controversy had arisen in the U.S.A. over the award, by the Fellows in American Letters of the Library of Congress, of the Bollingen Prize
in Poetry to the poet Ezra Pound in 1949•

Articles published in The Saturday Review of Literature (11 and 18 June) arbitrarily dragged Jung into the conflict, presenting him as a Nazi and anti -Semite by the method of misquotation, quotation out of context, and insinuation.

The only connection with Jung lay in the name of the award, in which the name “Bollingen” appears simply because it was the Bollingen Foundation (named after the village where Jung had his country retreat) that had put the money ($1000) at the disposal of the Library.

The articles were followed by a long correspondence in which, again quite arbitrarily and without relevance to the original issues, opponents of Jung came up with unfounded accusations based on the same methods of falsification.

Concerning the award to Pound cf. “The Case against the Saturday Review of Literature,” Poetry (Chicago ), 1949.

Dorothy Thompson mentioned the controversy in her letter (10 Sept.) to Jung, referring to the “mendacity and malice” of his opponents.