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Psychology of the Unconscious

[Carl Jung on The Philosophical and The Psychological Approach to Life.]

Our ideas have, however, the unfortunate but inevitable tendency to lag behind the changes in the total situation.

They can hardly do otherwise, because, so long as nothing changes in the world, they remain more or less adapted and therefore function in a satisfactory way.

There is then no cogent reason why they should be changed and adapted anew.

It is only when conditions have altered so drastically that there is an unendurable rift between the outer situation and our ideas, now become antiquated, that the general problem of our Weltanschauung, or philosophy of life, arises, and with it the question of how the primordial images that maintain the flow of instinctive energy are to be reoriented or re-adapted.

They cannot simply be replaced by a new rational configuration, for this would be molded too much by the outer situation and not enough by man’s biological needs.

Moreover, not only would it build no bridge to the original man, but it would block the approach to him altogether.

This is in keeping with the aims of Marxist education, which seeks, like God himself, to mold man, but in the image of the State.

Today, our basic convictions have become increasingly rationalistic.

Our philosophy is no longer a way of life, as it was in antiquity; it has turned into an exclusively intellectual and academic affair.

Our denominational religions with their archaic rites and conceptions – justified enough in themselves – express a view of the world which caused no great difficulties in the Middle Ages but has become strange and unintelligible to the man of today.

Despite this conflict with the modern scientific outlook, a deep instinct bids him hang on to ideas which, if taken literally, leave out of account all the mental developments of the last five hundred years.

The obvious purpose of this is to prevent him from falling into the abyss of nihilistic despair.

But even when, as rationalists, we feel impelled to criticize contemporary religion as literalistic, narrow-minded and obsolescent, we should never forget that the creeds proclaim a doctrine whose symbols, although their interpretation may be disputed, nevertheless possess a life of their own on account of their archetypal character.

Consequently, intellectual understanding is by no means indispensable in all cases, but is called for only when evaluation through feeling and intuition does not suffice, that is to say, with people for whom the intellect holds the prime power of conviction.

Nothing is more characteristic and symptomatic in this respect than the gulf that has opened out between faith and knowledge.

The contrast has become so enormous that one is obliged to speak of the incommensurability of these two categories and their way of looking at the world.

And yet they are concerned with the same empirical world in which we live, for even theology tells us that faith is supported by facts that became historically perceptible in this known world of ours, namely, that Christ was born as a real human being, worked many miracles and suffered his fate, died under Pontius Pilate and rose up in the flesh after his death.

Theology rejects any tendency to take the statements of its earliest records as written myths and, accordingly, to understand them symbolically. Indeed, it is the theologians themselves who have recently made the attempt – no doubt as a concession to “knowledge” – to “demythologize” the object of their faith while drawing the line quite arbitrarily at the crucial points.

But to the critical intellect it is only too obvious that myth is an integral component of all religions and therefore cannot be excluded from the assertions of faith without injuring them.

The rupture between faith and knowledge is a symptom of the split consciousness which is so characteristic of the mental disorder of our day.

It is as if two different persons were making statements about the same thing, each from his own point of view, or as if one person in two different frames of mind were sketching a picture of his experience.

If for “person” we substitute “modern society,” it is evident that the latter is suffering from a mental dissociation, i.e., a neurotic disturbance.

In view of this, it does not help matters at all if one party pulls obstinately to the right and the other to the left. This is what happens in every neurotic psyche, to its own deep distress, and it is just this distress that brings the patient to the doctor.

As I stated above in all brevity – while not neglecting to mention certain practical details whose omission might have perplexed the reader – the doctor has to establish a relationship with both halves of his patient’s personality, because only from them both, and not merely from one half with the suppression of the other, can he put together a whole and complete man.

The latter alternative is what the patient has been doing all along, for the modern Weltanschauung gives him no other guidance.

His individual situation is the same in principle as the collective situation.

He is a social microcosm, reflecting on the smallest scale the quantities of society at large, or, conversely, as the smallest social unit, cumulatively producing the collective dissociation.

The latter possibility is the more likely one, as the only direct and concrete carrier of life is the individual personality, while society and the State are conventional ideas and can claim reality only in so far as they are represented by a certain number of individuals.

Far too little attention has been paid to the fact that our age, for all its irreligiousness, is hereditarily burdened with the specific achievement of the Christian epoch: the supremacy of the word, of the Logos, which stands for the central figure of our Christian faith.

The word has literally become our god and so it has remained, even if we know of Christianity only from hearsay. Words like “society” and “State” are so concretized that they are almost personified.

In the opinion of the man in the street, the “State,” far more than any king in history, is the inexhaustible giver of all good; the “State” is invoked, made responsible, grumbled at, and so on and so forth.

Society is elevated to the rank of a supreme ethical principle; indeed, it is credited with positively creative capacities.

No one seems to notice that the veneration of the word, which was necessary for a certain phase of historical development, has a perilous shadow side.

That is to say, the moment the word, as a result of centuries of education, attains universal validity, it severs its original link with the divine person.

There is then a personified Church, a personified State; belief in the word becomes credulity, and the word itself an infernal slogan capable of any deception.

With credulity come propaganda and advertising to dupe the citizen with political jobbery and compromises, and the lie reaches proportions never known before in the history of the world.

Thus, the word, originally announcing the unity of all men and their union in the figure of the one great Man, has in our day become the source of suspicion and distrust of all against all.

Credulity is one of our worst enemies, but that is the makeshift the neurotic always resorts to in order to quell the doubter in his own breast or conjure him out of existence.

People think you have only to “tell” a person that he “ought” to do something in order to put him on the right track. But whether he can or will do it is another matter.

The psychologist has come to see that nothing is achieved by telling, persuading, admonishing, giving good advice.

He must also get acquainted with the details and have an authentic knowledge of the psychic inventory of his patient.

He has therefore to relate to the individuality of the sufferer and feel his way into all the nooks and crannies of his mind, to a degree that
far exceeds the capacity of a teacher or even of a directeur de conscience.

His scientific objectivity, which excludes nothing, enables him to see his patient not only as a human being but also as a subhuman who is bound to his body, like an animal.

The development of science has directed his interest beyond the range of the conscious personality to the world of unconscious instinct dominated by sexuality and the power drive (or self-assertion) corresponding to the twin moral concepts of Saint Augustine: concupiscentia and superbia.

The clash between these two fundamental instincts (preservation of the species and self-preservation) is the source of numerous conflicts.

They are, therefore, the chief object of moral judgment, whose purpose it is to prevent these instinctual collisions as far as possible.

As I explained above, instinct has two main aspects: on the one hand, that of dynamism, drive or drift, and on the other, specific meaning and intention.

It is highly probable that all man’s psychic functions have an instinctual foundation, as is obviously the case with animals.

It is easy to see that in animals instinct functions as the spiritus rector of all their behavior.

This observation lacks certainty only where the learning capacity begins to develop, for instance in the higher apes and in man.

In the animals, as a result of their learning capacity, instinct undergoes numerous modifications and differentiations; in civilized man the instincts are so split up that only a few of the basic ones can be recognized with any certainty in their original form.

The most important are the two fundamental instincts and their derivatives, and these have been the exclusive concern of medical psychology so far.

Investigators found, however, that in following up the ramifications of the instincts they hit upon configurations which could not with certainty be ascribed to either group.

To take but one example: the discoverer of the power instinct was in some doubt as to whether an apparently indubitable expression of the sexual instinct might not be better explained as a “power arrangement,” and Freud himself felt obliged to acknowledge the existence of “ego instincts” in addition to the overriding sex instinct – a clear concession to the Adlerian standpoint.

In view of this uncertainty, it is hardly surprising that in most cases neurotic symptoms can be explained, almost without contradiction, in terms of either theory.

This perplexity does not mean that one or the other standpoint, or both of them, is erroneous.

Rather, they are both relatively valid and, unlike certain one-sided and dogmatic preferences, allow the existence and competition of other instincts.

Although, as I have said, the question of human instinct is a far from simple matter, we shall probably not be wrong in assuming that the learning capacity, a quality almost exclusive to man, is based on the instinct for imitation found in animals.

It is in the nature of this instinct to disturb other instinctive activities and eventually to modify them, as can be observed, for instance, in the songs of birds, when they adopt other melodies.

Nothing estranges man more from the ground plan of his instincts than his learning capacity, which turns out to be a genuine drive towards progressive transformation of human modes of behavior.

It, more than anything else, is responsible for the altered conditions of our existence and the need for new adaptations which civilization brings.

It is also the source of numerous psychic disturbances and difficulties occasioned by man’s progressive alienation from his instinctual foundation, i.e., by his uprootedness and identification with his conscious knowledge of himself, by his concern with consciousness at the expense of the unconscious.

The result is that modern man can know himself only in so far as he can become conscious of himself – a capacity largely dependent on environmental conditions, the drive for knowledge and control of which necessitated or suggested certain modifications of his original instinctive tendencies.

His consciousness therefore orients itself chiefly by observing and investigating the world around him, and it is to its peculiarities that he must adapt his psychic and technical resources.

This task is so exacting, and its fulfillment so advantageous, that he forgets himself in the process, losing sight of his instinctual nature and putting his own conception of himself in place of his real being.

In this way he slips imperceptibly into a purely conceptual world where the products of his conscious activity progressively replace reality.

Separation from his instinctual nature inevitably plunges civilized man into the conflict between conscious and unconscious, spirit and nature, knowledge and faith, a split that becomes pathological the moment his consciousness is no longer able to neglect or suppress his instinctual side.

The accumulation of individuals who have got into this critical state starts off a mass movement purporting to be the champion of the suppressed.

In accordance with the prevailing tendency of consciousness to seek the source of all ills in the outside world, the cry goes up for political and social changes which, it is supposed, would automatically solve the much deeper problem of split personality.

Hence it is that whenever this demand is fulfilled, political and social conditions arise which bring the same ills back again in altered form.

What then happens is a simple reversal: the underside comes to the top and the shadow takes the place of the light, and since the former is always anarchic and turbulent, the freedom of the “liberated” underdog must suffer Draconian curtailment.

All this is unavoidable, because the root of the evil is untouched and merely the counter-position has come to light.

The Communist revolution has debased man far lower than democratic collective psychology has done, because it robs him of his freedom not only in the social but in the moral and spiritual sense.

Aside from the political difficulties, the West has suffered a great psychological disadvantage that made itself unpleasantly felt even in the days of German Nazism: the existence of a dictator allows us to point the finger away from ourselves and at the shadow.

He is clearly on the other side of the political frontier, while we are on the side of good and enjoy the possession of the right ideals.

Did not a well-known statesman recently confess that he had “no imagination in evil”?

In the name of the multitude he was here giving expression to the fact that Western man is in danger of losing his shadow altogether, of identifying himself with his fictive personality and of identifying the world with the abstract picture painted by scientific rationalism.

His spiritual and moral opponent, who is just as real as he, no longer dwells in his own breast but beyond the geographical line of division, which no longer represents an outward political barrier but splits off the conscious from the unconscious man more and more menacingly.

Thinking and feeling lose their inner polarity, and where religious orientation has grown ineffective, not even a god is at hand to check the sovereign sway of unleashed psychic functions.

Our rational philosophy does not bother itself with whether the other person in us, pejoratively described as the “shadow,” is in sympathy with our conscious plans and intentions.

Evidently it does not know that we carry in ourselves a real shadow whose existence is grounded in our instinctual nature.

The dynamism and imagery of the instincts together form an a priori which no man can overlook without the gravest risk to himself.

Violation or neglect of instinct has painful consequences of a physiological and psychological nature for whose removal medical help, above all, is required.

For more than fifty years we have known, or could have known, that there is an unconscious as a counterbalance to consciousness.

Medical psychology has furnished all the necessary empirical and experimental proofs of this.

There is an unconscious psychic reality which demonstrably influences consciousness and its contents.

All this is known, but no practical conclusions have been drawn from it.

We still go on thinking and acting as before, as if we were simplex and not duplex.

Accordingly, we imagine ourselves to be innocuous, reasonable and humane.

We do not think of distrusting our motives or of asking ourselves how the inner man feels about the things we do in the outside world.

But actually it is frivolous, superficial and unreasonable of us, as well as psychically unhygienic, to overlook the reaction and standpoint of the unconscious.

One can regard one’s stomach or heart as unimportant and worthy of contempt, but that does not prevent overeating or overexertion from having consequences that affect the whole man.

Yet we think that psychic mistakes and their consequences can be got rid of with mere words, for “psychic” means less than air to most people.

All the same, nobody can deny that without the psyche there would be no world at all, and still less, a human world.

Virtually everything depends on the human soul and its functions.

It should be worthy of all the attention we can give it, especially today, when everyone admits that the weal or woe of the future will be decided neither by the attacks of wild animals nor by natural catastrophes nor by the danger of world-wide epidemics but simply and solely by the psychic changes in man.

It needs only an almost imperceptible disturbance of equilibrium in a few of our rulers’ heads to plunge the world into blood, fire and radioactivity.

The technical means necessary for this are present on both sides. And certain conscious deliberations, uncontrolled by any inner opponent, can be indulged in all too easily, as we have seen already from the example of one “Leader.”

The consciousness of modern man still clings so much to outward objects that he makes them exclusively responsible, as if it were on them that the decision depended.

That the psychic state of certain individuals could emancipate itself for once from the behavior of objects is something that is considered far too little, although irrationalities of this sort are observed every day and can happen to everyone.

The forlornness of consciousness in our world is due primarily to the loss of instinct, and the reason for this lies in the development of the human mind over the past aeon.

The more power man had over nature, the more his knowledge and skill went to his head, and the deeper became his contempt for the merely natural and accidental, for that which is irrationally given – including the objective psyche, which is all that consciousness is not.

In contrast to the subjectivism of the conscious mind the unconscious is objective, manifesting itself mainly in the form of contrary feelings, fantasies, emotions, impulses and dreams, none of which one makes oneself but which come upon one objectively.

Even today psychology is still, for the most part, the science of conscious contents, measured as far as possible by collective standards.

The individual psyche has become a mere accident, a “random” phenomenon, while the unconscious, which can manifest itself only in the real, “irrationally given” human being, has been ignored altogether.

This was not the result of carelessness or of lack of knowledge, but of downright resistance to the mere possibility of there being a second psychic authority besides the ego.

It seems a positive menace to the ego that its monarchy can be doubted.

The religious person, on the other hand, is accustomed to the thought of not being sole master in his own house.

He believes that God, and not he himself, decides in the end. But how many of us would dare to let the will of God decide, and which of us would not feel embarrassed if he had to say how far the decision came from God himself?

The religious person, so far as one can judge, stands directly under the influence of the reaction from the unconscious.

As a rule, he calls this the operation of conscience.

But since the same psychic background produces reactions other than moral ones, the believer is measuring his conscience by the traditional ethical standard and thus by a collective value, in which endeavor he is assiduously supported by his Church.

So long as the individual can hold fast to his traditional beliefs, and the circumstances of his time do not demand stronger emphasis on individual autonomy, he can rest content with the situation.

But the situation is radically altered when the worldly-minded man who is oriented to external factors and has lost his religious beliefs appears en masse, as is the case today.

The believer is then forced onto the defensive and must catechize himself on the foundation of his beliefs.

He is no longer sustained by the tremendous suggestive power of the consensus omnium, and is keenly aware of the weakening of the Church and the precariousness of its dogmatic assumptions.

To counter this, the Church recommends more faith, as if this gift of grace depended on man’s good will and pleasure.

The seat of faith, however, is not consciousness but spontaneous religious experience, which brings the individual’s faith into immediate relation with God.

Here we must ask: Have I any religious experience and immediate relation to God, and hence that certainty which will keep me, as an individual, from dissolving in the crowd? ~Carl Jung, Psychology of the Unconscious, Pages 51-62.