Civilization in Transition

All American life seems to be the life of the big settlement real town-life.

Even the smallest settlement denies itself the character of a village and tends to become a city.

The town rules the whole style of living, even in the country.

It seems as though everything were collective and standardized.

Once on a visit to a so-called camp with so-called country life, a European friend who was travelling with me whispered to me in a quiet moment:

“I bet they even have a text-book on how to camp,” and—there it was, evilly glistening in red and gold upon the shelf!

The country is wonderful, nay, just divine, still with the faint perfume of unhistorical eternity in the air, and those lovely crickets not yet shy of man.

They don’t know yet that they are living in America, like some Navahos.

And the bullfrog talks in the night with his prehistoric booming voice.

Beautiful immense nights, and days blessed with sunshine.

There is real country and nobody seems to be up to it, certainly not that hustling, noisily chattering, motoring townfolk.

They are not even down to it, as the Red Indians are, with whom one feels peculiarly at ease because they are obviously under the spell of their country and not on top of it.

So there at last is the peace of God.

I know the mother-nations of North America pretty well, but I would be completely at a loss to explain, if I relied solely on the theory of heredity, how the Americans descended from them acquired their striking peculiarities.

One might suppose that some of them were the product of the old pioneer and colonist attitude.

But I fail to see how the particular qualities I have mentioned have anything to do with the character of the early farmer colonist.

There is a much better hypothesis to explain the peculiarities of the American temperament.

It is the fact that the States are pervaded by the Negro, that most striking and suggestive figure.

Some States are particularly black, a fact that may astonish the naive European, who thinks of America as a white nation.

It is not wholly white, if you please, but piebald. It cannot be helped, it just is so.

What is more contagious than to live side by side with a rather primitive people? Go to Africa and see what happens.

When it is so obvious that you stumble over it, you call it “going black.”

But if it is not so obvious it is explained as “the sun.”

In India it is always the sun.

In reality it is a mitigated going black, counterbalanced by a particularly stiff-necked  conventionality (with its subdivisions of righteousness and conspicuous respectability).

Under the pressure of all this conventionality people simply dry up, though they make the sun responsible.

It is much easier for us Europeans to be a trifle immoral, or at least a bit lax, because we do not have to maintain the moral standard against the heavy downward pull of primitive life.

The inferior man has a tremendous pull because he fascinates the inferior layers of our psyche, which has lived through untold ages of similar conditions—”on revient toujours a ses premiers amours.”

He reminds us—or not so much our conscious as our unconscious mind—not only of childhood but of our prehistory, which would take us back not more than about twelve hundred years so far as the Germanic races are concerned.

The barbarian in us is still wonderfully strong and he yields easily to the lure of his youthful memories.

Therefore he needs very definite defences.

The Latin peoples being older don’t need to be so much on their guard, hence their approach to the coloured man is different.

But the defences of the Germanic man reach only as far as consciousness reaches.

Below the threshold of consciousness the contagion meets with little resistance.

Just as the coloured man lives in your cities and even within your houses, so also he lives under your skin, subconsciously.

Naturally it works both ways.

Just as every Jew has a Christ complex, so every Negro has a white complex and every American a Negro complex.

As a rule the coloured man would give anything to change his skin, and the white man hates to admit that he has been touched by the black.

Now for the facts. What about that American laughter? What about the boundless noisy sociality? The pleasure in movement and in stunts of all sorts? The loose-jointed walk, the Negroid dancing and music?

The rhythm of jazz is the same as the n’goma, the African dance.

You can dance the Central African n’goma with all its jumping and rocking, its swinging shoulders and hips, to American jazz.

American music is most obviously pervaded by the African rhythm and the African melody.

It would be difficult not to see that the coloured man, with his primitive motility, his expressive emotionality, his childlike directness, his sense of music and rhythm, his funny and picturesque language, has infected the American “behaviour.”

As any psychologist and any doctor knows, nothing is more contagious than tics, stammering, choreic movements, signs of emotion, above all laughter and peculiarities of speech.

Even if your mind and heart are elsewhere, even if you don’t understand a joke in a foreign language, you can’t help smiling when everybody else smiles.

Stammering can have a most infectious quality, so that you hardly can refrain from imitating it involuntarily.

Melody and rhythm are most insidious, they can obsess you for days, and as to language it is most disturbing how its metaphors and different ways of pronunciation affect you, beginning with some apologetic quotation, and then because you just can’t help it.

The white man is a most terrific problem to the Negro, and whenever you affect somebody so profoundly, then, in a mysterious way, something comes back from him to yourself.

The Negro by his mere presence is a source of temperamental and mimetic infection, which the European can’t help noticing just as much as he sees the hopeless gap between the American and the African Negro.

Racial infection is a most serious mental and moral problem where the primitive outnumbers the white man.

America has this problem only in a relative degree, because the whites far outnumber the coloured.

Apparently he can assimilate the primitive influence with little risk to himself.

What would happen if there were a considerable increase in the coloured population is another matter.

I am quite convinced that some American peculiarities can be traced back directly to the coloured man, while others result from a compensatory defence against his laxity.

But they remain externals leaving the inner quick of the American character untouched, which is not the case where “going black” is concerned.

Since I am not a behaviourist, I take leave to suppose that you are still very far from the real man when you observe only his behaviour.

I regard behaviour as a mere husk that conceals the living substance within.

Thus I can discern the white man clearly enough through his slightly Negroid mannerisms, and my question is: Is this American white man nothing but a simple white man, or is he in some way different from the European representative of the species?

I believe there is a marked difference between them within as well as without.

European magazines have recently published pictures of well-known Americans in Indian headdress, and some Red Indians in European costume in the opposite column, with the question: Who are the Indians?

This is not just a joke.

There is something in it that can be denied.

It may seem mysterious and unbelievable, yet it is a fact that can be observed in other countries just as well.

Man can be assimilated by a country.

There is an x and a y in the air and in the soil of a country, which slowly permeate and assimilate him to the type of the aboriginal inhabitant, even to the point of slightly remodelling his physical features.

The verification of such facts in terms of exact measurement, overwhelmingly obvious though they sometimes are, is—I admit exceedingly difficult.

But there are many such things that elude all our means of exact scientific verification despite their obvious and indubitable character.

Think of all the subtleties of expression in the eyes, gestures, and intonation.

In practice everybody goes by them and no idiot could misunderstand them, yet one is faced with a most ticklish task when it comes to giving an absolutely scientific description of them.

I know a man who could tell from a series of photographs of Jews of different countries with almost infallible certainty: This is a Polish, that a Cossack, and that a German Jew, and so on.

Undoubtedly there are these subtle indications in man: sometimes they lurk in the lines of his face, sometimes in his gestures, his facial expression, the look in his eyes, and sometimes in his psyche, that shines forth through the transparent veil of his body.

At all events it is often possible to tell in what country he was born.

I know quite a number of cases where children of purely European parents were born in Eastern countries and exhibited the marks of their respective birthplaces either in the imponderabilia of their appearance or in their mental make-up or in both, and to such a degree that not only I myself but other people who were entirely ignorant of the circumstances could make the diagnosis.

The foreign country somehow gets under the skin of those born in it.

Certain very primitive tribes are convinced that it is not possible to usurp foreign territory, because the children born there would inherit the wrong ancestor-spirits who dwell in the trees, the rocks, and the water of that country.

There seems to be some subtle truth in this primitive intuition. Carl Jung, CW 10, Paras 959-969