America Facing Its Most Tragic Moment
America is the most tragic country in the world to-day.
Prudery is always the cover for brutality.
The chivalry of the South is a reaction against its instinctive desire to imitate the negro.
The American women have to work harder than any other women to attract the men of their country.
The reason American girls like to marry foreigners is not love of titles, but love of men who are a little dangerous.
America is the most emotional country, and the country of the greatest self-control.
The effort to maintain self-control in the face of brutal instinct makes us a land of neurasthenics.
In America you distrust a man if he has more than one idea.
American wives have thrown themselves into social activity because they are not happy with their husbands. Neither the men nor the women know this.
The regeneration of America depends on whether it has the courage to face itself.
Eliminate prudery and America may become the greatest country the world has ever known.
American women rule the home because the American men have not yet learned to love them.
[NB. This is a transcription of an interview given in 1912 by Carl Jung to the New York Times. I have reproduced it here because I find Jung’s comments to be striking and prescient. I urge everyone to consider them carefully.]
“When I see so much refinement and sentiment as I see in America, I look always for an equal amount of brutality. The pair of opposites — you find them everywhere.” said Dr. Carl Jung, the Swiss psychiatrist, who is here in attendance upon one of the many medical conventions.
“I find the greatest self-control in the world among the Americans — and I search for its cause. Why should there be so much self-control, I ask myself — in America — and I find for an answer brutality. I find a great deal of prudery. What is the cause, I ask, and I discover brutality. Prudery is always the cover for brutality. Is is necessary — it makes life possible until you discover the brute and take real control of it. When you do that in America, then you will be the most emotional, the most temperamental, the most fully developed people in the world.
“It seems to me that you are about to discover yourselves. You have discovered everything else — all the land of this continent, all the resources, all the hidden things of Nature which can server you in the building of your Nation. You have built your big cities and crowded your cities with theatres and clubs and cathedrals and school-houses. It is al ready and waiting for you to use to some great end when you shall discover yourselves. To do that you will have to study your own self-control; you will have to analyze your own consciousness; you will have to admit that have been hiding from yourselves ever since the Puritans and Huguenots came to the country.
“You will not be ashamed of the brutality when you understand it, and as soon as you understand it, it will be transformed into great emotions which shall give impetus to your National development, far beyond what you now hope for. Your success in all the big things of art and literature will astound Europe, as to-day it is astounded by your great systems of business and philanthropy.
“In America. as in all countries entered by a conquering race, the conquerors always drop toward the level of the conquered, for it is much easier to go down ten feet than to climb up one. The whole effort toward human development is to push us up that one foot, and if we let go of any of the things which we have gained by civilization, we slip quickly. In South Africa the Dutch, who were at the time of their colonizing a developed and civilized people, dropped to a much lower level because of their contact with the savage races. The savage inhabitants of a country have to be mastered. In the attempt to master, brutality rises in the master. He must be ruthless. He must sacrifice everything soft and fine for the sake of mastering savages. Their influence is very great; the more surely they are dominated, the more savage the master must become. The slave has the greatest influence of all, because he is kept close to the one who rules him.
“In America the Indians do not influence you now; they have fallen back before your power, and they are very few. They influenced your ancestors. You, to-day, are influenced by the negro race, which not so long ago had to call you master. In the North the negro’s present influence is not great. In the South, where they are not given opportunities equal to the white race, their influence is very great. They are really in control.
“I notice that your Southerners speak with the negro accent; your women are coming to walk more and more like the negro. In the South I find what they call sentiment and chivalry and romance to be the covering of cruelty. Cruelty and chivalry are another pair of opposites. The Southerners treat one another very courteously, but they treat the negro as they would treat their own unconscious mind if they know what was in it. When I see a man in a savage rage with something outside himself, I know that he is, in reality, wanting to be savage toward his own unconscious self.”
This world “unconscious” which Dr. Jung uses constantly signifies to him all that lies below the threshold of that part of the mind which we recognize as conscious. He believes that in our growth, in childhood, and youth, we are storing this unconsciousness of ours with fears and hopes, likes and dislikes; that we push down instinctively into this forgetfulness all the facts which we refuse to face, or which we do not understand. In our maturity these facts and memories, prejudices, and passionate elements have the same vitality as at the moment of repression, and because they are hidden we do not recognized the part they play in our lives. They are likely in certain cases to dominate the conscious mind and to affect the health of the individual.
Jung and Freud in a New School
Dr. Carl Jung is the Professor Psychiatry and Psychology at the University of Zurich, where for years he has been doing work in Psychanalysis. He is well known in Europe through this work and through his writings. It was he who brought Dr. Sigmund Freud to the recognition of the older school of psychology, and together theses two men stand at the head of a school of thought which is considered by many students of the subject to give the most radical explanation of the human mind, and the most fundamental, since the beginning of its study. Dr. Jung lays emphasis upon the fact that psychanalysis brings to the surface of the conscious mind all the hidden memories and factors of the unconscious mind — which has so long been called the sub-conscious. He believes that, if a man can understand his hidden motives and impulses, he comes into a new power.
It is the search for this power as it is to be found in the individual, in the Nation, or the race which makes psychanalysis — in the eyes of its followers — the greatest human study being carries on to-day. Everything that science has discovered is used by these new psychologists. All the fruits of literatures, all the myths of the ancients, serve to reveal the hidden influences of man and society.
Psychanalysis came into maturity in a materialistic age when the followers of Darwin and Spencer believed that they had the whole truth and the full wisdom. All the explanations that were being given were “scientific” and based upon what seemed to the scientist tangible proofs. The schools of neurologists and physiological psychologists all insisted that they, too, were scientific; but there were, nevertheless, many things still in the dark which seemed to be of equal value with all that was known of the mind and its mechanism.
Dr. Sigmund Freud of Vienna in his study of the hysteria and insanity which came under his attention as a physician, was the first psychologist to persist in searching for the cause which science says must in every case precede an effect. Other psychologists had ascribed all mental derangements to physical causes, and yet had attained comparatively small results in the treatment of certain cases. This led Freud to believe that there was something besides a physical cause, and he went upon the theory that a mental effect might well have a mental cause in combination with a physical. This made him, in the eyes of his colleagues, a revolutionist, even though his method of study was more thoroughly scientific than that of his predecessors. The great number of cures that he can point to as a result of his method — psychanalysis — has forced his antagonists to accept much of what he has done, but the war between the new and the old method is still on in Europe, and its echoes are heard here in this country wherever physicians meet together to discuss hysteria, neurosis, and other manifestations of psychic derangement.
Dr. Carl Jung has proceeded on this same theory, and added to it other scientific processes. His classrooms are crowded with students, who are eager to understand what seems to many to be an almost miraculous treatment. His clinics are crowded with medical cases which have baffled other doctors, and he is here in America to lecture upon his subject. There is antagonism here, too, but Dr. Jung finds a growing interest in psychanalysis.
“Your America mind,” he says, “is very direct. It is very logical. It deals so much of the time with what we call reality, that is, with the raw materials of life, in order to bring forth your great enterprises, your great buildings, that you have learned to think, to reason, upon abstractions. If a man in America sees there is some small gap in his business which must be filled to make the business effective, he does not think merely of his own peculiar enterprise, but he thinks of the gap in relation to all business enterprises like his, and he works out a method and is even likely to organize some great business as a result of having seen a small defect in his own private enterprise.
“That is what I call thinking in abstraction, and it is something which the human race is only now learning to do. In antiquity they knew the principles of machinery, but their minds were not equal to making the machines which should express these principles. In some way when they saw the stuff before them out of which the machine was to be made, they began to think of its form and to delight in it, and the decorated it, and they lost sight of its end, and, hence, never brought it into existence as an effective machine. In America you never lose sight of the end for which you are designing your great machinery of American life. Your end is effective business, the dealing with the raw material of life, and you have built up a great system.
“It is expected, because I am a European, that I will criticise America, and it is expected of me as a student of psychology that I should find fault with the way you think, with the way the American mind realizes itself, but I am not a critic: I am a psychanalyst. It is for me to try to understand, and where one understands one cannot judge; for if every effect has its cause, there must have been sufficient cause for the great effects that I find in your country, and I must search for the cause and not blame the effect.
“There is not question but that you have sacrificed many beautiful things to achieve your great cities and the domination of your wildernesses. To build so great a mechanism you must have smothered many growing things, but there must be somewhere a cause, and when you have discovered that your mechanism will not have its danger for you that it has to-day. Whatever a man builds is likely to devour him, and the builder in America is in danger of being destroyed — but why should I call him names for that reason? He has to express himself in big buildings, in trusts, in system, of which we in Europe have as yet only the beginnings. We envy you. We have not learned to think in such great abstractions — and are not in as great danger as you Americans.
Puritan Ancestry and Its Results.
“I believe much of this ability to build on a large scale, to crush everything which is in the way of that building, to destroy everything which hinders your processes and systems grows out of your Puritan ancestry. They had learned to think abstractly before they came here. The biggest problem of the Middle Ages was to learn to think. They chose the greatest abstraction of all, the idea of God, and they sacrificed everything to that idea. Countries went down before it, families were broken up by it, armies were slaughtered in the attempt to learn to think of God, and your Puritans, the Huguenots, and all those to whom the idea of God was greater than anything else, learned to think so well that they left their own homes, and you are the descendants of these people. An abstract thought is always ruthless. It is the most dangerous one to think, and it is the most marvelous.
“So you must believe that I am not a critic, but that I am trying to understand. Many things which might displease me will no longer displease me when I understand what their cause is. A people is like an individual. If it suffers, it must not be hurt by a physician unless he is quite sure that in that hurt lies part of the cure.
“America does not see that it is in any danger. It does not understand that it is facing its most tragic moment; a moment in which it must make a choice to master its machines or to be devoured by them — and since it does not know this I would not want to hurt it.
“America is the country of the nervous disease, and in every nervous disease there is the psychic element. It is the painful witness of some conflict in both soul and body. I try to find out from my patients what they are hiding from themselves, and so, when they come to me, I am only a listener. I make my own mind a blank — receptive. I must have no prejudices, I must be making no judgments upon the moral or spiritual state which they disclose.
“After a while in our interviews they speak of something with difficulty, and then it becomes evident where the conflict is. Sometimes it is very childlike — some mistaken idea they have of life which holds them fast and keeps them from true living, and has even set up a nervous ailment as a sign of its existence. If my patient comes to realize that this conflict is real, and is tragic, and that all of his efforts to get away from it are useless as well as unworthy of him, then I can help him. Then what I have learned can be put at his service.
“I study the individual to understand the race, and the race to understand the individual. I ask myself, What influence has the building of America had upon the American man and the American woman of to-day? I find that it is a good subject for the student of psychanalysis.
“There is only so much vital energy in any human being. We call that in our work the Libido. And I would say that the Libido of the American man is focused almost entirely upon his business, so that as a husband he is glad to have no responsibilities. He gives the complete direction of his family life over to his wife. This is what you call giving independence to the American woman. It is what I call the laziness of the American man. That is why he is so kind and polite in his home, and why he can fight so hard in his business. His real life is where his fight is. The lazy part of his life is where his family is.
“When men are still in the barbaric stage they make women their slaves. If, while they are still barbaric by nature, some influence makes them see that they dare not treat women as slaves, then what do they do? They do not know yet how to love something which is equal to themselves. They do not know what real independence is, so they must kneel down before this slave and change her into the one thing they instinctively (even when they are barbarians) respect: they change the slave idea into the mother idea. And then they marry the mother-woman. And they respect her very much. And since they respect her so much, they can depend upon her. They need not be her master. In America your women rule their homes because the men have not yet learned to love them.
Gambling the Business of the Day.
“I made many observations on shipboard. I noticed that whenever the American husband spoke to his wife there was always a little melancholy note in his voice, as though he were not quite free; as though he were a boy talking to an older woman. He was always very polite and very kind, and paid her every respect. Yo could see that in her eyes he was not at all dangerous, and that she was not afraid of being mastered by him. But when any one told him that there was betting going on he would leave her, and his face became eager and full of desire, and his eyes would get very bright and his voice would get strong, and hard, and brutal. That is why I say his Libido, his vital energy, is in the game. He loves to gamble. That is business to-day.
“It takes much vital energy to be in love. In America you give so many opportunities both to your men and women that they do not save any of their vital force for loving. This is a wonderful country for opportunity. It is everywhere. It spreads out. It runs all over the surface of everything. And so the American mind runs out and spreads over the whole country. But there is a dark side of this. The people of America do not have to dig deep for their own life. In Europe we do.
“In Europe we have many divisions. Take my own little country of Switzerland. In Switzerland we must be Swiss, because we won’t be German, and we won’t be French, and we won’t be Italian. And the people of Germany feel the same way. But in America you can be anything. In my country I have not as many opportunities given to me. Therefore I dig deeper and deeper in order to find my own life. In America you think you are concentrated because you are so direct, because you like your men who only have one idea at a time. I find that you distrust a man if he has two ideas. But if he has only one, you give him every chance to launch his enterprise. I do not feel that you care for those things which are profound. You can so easily distract yourself. And anything that you find unpleasant you bury so quickly at once in your unconscious mind.
“The American husband is very indignant when he comes to me for treatment for neurasthenia or nervous breakdown, and I tell him it’s because he is brutal on one hand and prudish on the other. You have in America the wooden face, just as they have it in England, because you’re trying so hard to hide your emotions and your instincts. In Europe we have many little outlets for our emotions. We have an old civilization, which gives us a chance to live like men and women. But in England, even a hundred years ago, the people were still the conquering race that had been colored by the savage instincts of the inhabitants of the British Isles. The English had to conquer the Celt, and the Celt lived a few hundred years ago in almost savage conditions.
“In America you are still pioneers, and you have the great emotions of all adventurous pioneers, but if you should give way to them you would lose in the game of business, and so you practice the greatest self-control. And then this self-control — which holds you together and keeps you from dissolution, and from going to pieces — reacts upon you and you break down under the effort to maintain it.
“That is what I mean by psychanalysis. The search back into the soul for the hidden psychological factors which, in combination with physical nerves, have brought about a false adjustment to life. In America there is just such a tragic moment arrived. But you do not know it is tragic. All you know is that you are nervous, or, as we physicians say, neurotic. You are uncomfortable. But you do not know that you are unhappy.
American Marriages Tragic.
“You believe, for instance, that American marriages are the happiest in the world. I say they are the most tragic. I know this not only from my study of the people as a whole, but from my study of the individuals who come to me. I find that the men and women are giving their vital energy to everything except to the relation between themselves. In that relation all is confusion. The women are the mothers of their husbands as well as of their children, yet at the same time there is in them the old, old primitive desire to be possessed, to yield, to surrender. And there is nothing in the man for her to surrender to except his kindness, his courtesy, his generosity, his chivalry. His competitor, his rival in business must yield, but she need not.
“There is not country in the world where women have to work so hard to attract men’s attention. There is in your Metropolitan Museum a bas-relief which shows the girls of Crete in one of their religious dances about their god in the form of a bull. These girls of 200 B.C. wear their hair in chignons; they have puffed sleeves; their corseted waists are very slender; they are dressed to show every line of their figures just as women are dressing to-day.
“At that time the reasons which made it necessary to attract men to themselves in this way had to do with the morals of their country. The women were desperate just as they are to-day, without knowing it. In Athens four or five hundred years before Christ there was even an epidemic of suicide among young girls, which was only brought to an end by the decision of the Areopagus that the next girl who did away with herself would be exhibited nude upon the streets of Athens. There were no more suicides. The judges of Athens understood sex psychology.
“On Fifth Avenue I am constantly reminded of that bas-relief. All the women, by their dress, by the eagerness of their faces, by their walk, are trying to attract the tired men of their country. What they will do when they fail I can’t tell. It may be that then they will face themselves instead of running away from themselves, as they do now. Usually men are more honest with themselves than women. But in this country your women have more leisure than the men. Ideas run easily among them, are discussed in clubs, and so here it may be that they will be the first ones to ask if you are a happy country or unhappy.
“It may be that you are going to produce a race which are human beings first, and men and women secondarily. It may be that you are going to create the real independent woman who knows she is independent, who feels the responsibility of her independence and, in time, will come to see that she must give spontaneously those things which up to now she only allows to be taken from her when she pretends to be passive. To-day the American woman is still confused. She wants independence, she wants to be free to do everything, to have all the opportunities which men have, and, at the same time she wants to be mastered by man and to be possessed in the archaic way of Europe.
“You think your young girls marry European husbands because they are ambitious for titles. I way it is because, after all, they are not different from the European girls; they like the way European men make love, and they like to feel we are a little dangerous. They are not happy with their American husbands because they are not afraid of them. It is natural, even though it is archaic, for women to want to be afraid when they love. If they don’t want to be afraid then perhaps they are becoming truly independent, and you may be producing the real ‘new woman.’ But up to this time your American man isn’t ready for real independence in woman. He only wants to be the obedient son of his mother-wife. There is a great obligation laid upon the American people — that it shall face itself — that shall admit its moment of tragedy in the present — admit that it has a great future only if it has courage to face itself.”