The Earth Has a Soul: C.G. Jung on Nature, Technology & Modern Life

Man and His Environment

Hans Carol, a Swiss geographer from Zurich University, sought views on regional planning for the Canton of Zurich from influential persons, among whom was Jung, who gave him a half-hour appointment in February 1950. The subject so engrossed Jung that he kept Carol nearly an hour longer. Carol came across notes of their conversation some years later and wrote them up for the Neue Zurcher Zeitung’s literary supplement, June, 1963; a slightly expanded account appeared in the magazine Landscape in 1965. The following is reprinted from the anthology, Jung Speaking.

Carol: I would be grateful if you, as a leading psychologist, would comment on the subject of man and his environment. Although we planners try not to look at the human being as a mere product of his physical environment, we believe nonetheless that the environment is a crucial factor in human existence. Just as men are influenced by education, they are surely also influenced by the environment society designs for them.

Jung: I am very pleased that you are devoting your attention to this question. The abstract nature of work in a technological age leaves the worker dissatisfied. Dissatisfaction induces people to look for compensation elsewhere. Suggestibility increases geometrically according to the number of persons involved. Mass mental disorder may reach epidemic proportions. Decentralization, on the other hand, allows for small social units. Every man should have his own plot of land so that the instincts can come to life again. To own land is important psychologically, and there is no substitute for it. We keep forgetting that we are primates and that we have to make allowances for these primitive layers in our psyche. The farmer is still closer to these layers. In tilling the earth he moves around within a very narrow radius, but he moves on his own land. The industrial worker is a pathetic, rootless being, and his remuneration in money is not tangible but abstract. In earlier times, when crafts flourished, he derived satisfaction from seeing the fruit of his labor. He found adequate self-expression in such work. But this is no longer the case. First of all, he is responsible for only a small part of the finished product. Secondly, the product is sold, it disappears, and he has no further stake in it. Because the psychological reward is inadequate, the worker rebels against his employer and against “capitalism” as a whole. We all need nourishment for our psyche. It is impossible to find such nourishment in urban tenements without a patch of green or a blossoming tree. We need a relationship with nature. I am just a culture-coolie myself, but I derive a great deal of pleasure from growing of my own potatoes. People tend to look for the Kingdom of God in the outer world rather than in their own souls. This is particularly true of socialism. Individuation is not only an upward but also a downward process. Without any body, there is no mind and therefore no individuation. Our civilizing potential has led us down the wrong path. All too often an American worker who owns only one car considers himself a poor devil, because his boss has two or three cars. This is symptomatic of pointless striving for material possessions.

Yet, we need to project ourselves into the things around us. My self is not confined to my body. It extends into all the things I have made and all the things around me. Without these things, I would merely be a human ape, a primate. Everything surrounding me is part of me, and that is precisely why a rented apartment is disastrous. It offers so few possibilities for self-expression. In a standardized apartment, in a standardized milieu, it is easy to lose the sense of one’s own personality, of one’s individuality.

A community is based on personal relationships. No community can evolve where people can easily move household from one place to another. The one-family house, the house owned by its inhabitants, is much better because it necessarily engenders a sense of permanence.

If man has a hand in shaping his environment, it will reflect his personality. A Soviet collective farm lacks soul, and the people who live in it are a dull, unhappy lot because they have been deprived of any opportunity for self expression…

A captive animal cannot return to freedom. But our workers can return. We see them doing it in the allotment gardens in and around our cities; these gardens are an expression of love for nature and for one’s own plot of land. As our working hours become shorter, the question of leisure time becomes increasingly essential to us, time in which we are free of commands and restrains and in which we can achieve self-realization. I am fully committed to the idea that human existence should be rooted in the earth. (JS. PP. 201- 3)