Carl Jung: Consciousness and unconsciousness in politics and life

Thursday March 9, 2006

9 a.m. All right, Mr. Bowers. I was thinking about your point of view – being now within a couple of chapters of the end – and I still don’t entirely agree with you. For instance, I think some form of compensation was owed slaves and slave-owner alike, though I can see why Unionists would ask bitterly why they should give any of their tax money to pay the families who had caused the rebellion and the war. You know Emerson’s response to a proposal that the slave owners should be compensated. He agreed: “But who is the owner? The slave is owner / And ever was. Pay him.”

It seems to me appropriate to take the lands of the slaveholders and divide them among the total pool of ex-slave families. It would have been a horrible mess to untangle, but worse than what resulted? And the shareowners need not have been left with nothing. In fact, perhaps some form or compensated emancipation could have compulsorily bought the land – thus giving the slave owners something for the capital in slaves they were losing – and giving homesteads to the black families out of that land. If we could give homesteads to white immigrants, why not to black ex-slaves some of whose ancestors had been there two hundred years? I think that your denying any such adjustment is merely taking one side of an argument and ignoring the other.

(9:40) Hard to really get going this morning. All right, shoot.

You can see from your emails [received] that the material is meeting response. This ought to suggest to you that a significant part of your national story is going untold. That is, if any one point of view is systematically suppressed for whatever reason, tensions build up – for the unconscious knows and the conscious does not, and it is a great drain of energy to maintain a state of not-knowing if you once invest in so doing. This is a major source of much of the craziness in your politics and public life. It is particularly disruptive when not one stream but many are being suppressed, for this means that different rivers of consciousness – call it that for the moment – suppress different parts while others elevate precisely those parts (suppressing others that they themselves do not wish to see). Hence your rivers of consciousness – that is, your factions, your ideologies – do not describe the same world, and meaningful exchange and compromise become ever less possible.

In your time this has built up to the explosion point. Historically what would happen now is the physical suppression of any one side of the argument.

Let me back-track and say it again. This is not wasted effort because, having read what I just wrote (you just wrote, whatever) the reader will be more able to follow me.

[A different “voice”:] In the absence of full consciousness, what is suppressed sets up an invisible tension with the consciousness that suppresses it.

Oh my God! Oh my God, I can feel the difference. Dr. Jung, is it really you? And if so, how could I ever get anyone to believe it? This just gets harder.

[CGJ:] It is not up to you to get anyone to believe. That is a fallacy that you should get out of your make-up. People believe because they have a need to believe; because the material for belief meets an ability to receive the material. It is only egotism that believes that it can convince. You may present the material more effectively, and so make it easier for people to align their mental structures, but you cannot by any verbal manipulation bring anyone to believe anything. The proper attitude for anyone who tries to bring messages forth into the world is humility, for the more transparent a medium your ego-consciousness provides, the less distortion there will be in the material as brought forth.

But to return to what I was saying, which people will judge on its own merits, not because it purportedly came from the shade of C.G. Jung! –

You know that I prefer that people formulate ideas in symbolic rather than logical terms. Logic automatically forces its opposite tenets into the unconscious. In other words, the clearer the statement, the more that is at least implicitly denied or omitted! And this sets up a tension, itself usually unsuspected or attributed to other causes. Thus, “thou shalt not kill.” A clear directive – and the mind thinks, “but what of the following situations?” and if the person attached to that mind is pious, perhaps shock at the idea of questioning God’s word sends the questions immediately into psychological no-man’s-land, you see. That person then becomes fanatical on the subject, because he or she cannot afford to doubt, or even to think. And whatever – or whoever, more to the point – attempts to force the logical contradictions or qualifications into the consciousness of another will be seen as a threat, as an attacker. Yes? And here is one key to the vehemence of your contemporary politics, for more and more unacceptable truths have been roughly shoved into people’s basements, and the doors locked and barred – but the doors are bulging outward, and the owner of the house lives in fear that the catch will let go.

If people were accustomed to speaking and hearing in symbols, the logical precision would suffer severely – which would be a good thing! – and more importantly the tension of the unexpressed would ease. Shared symbols help knit and re-knit the raveled sleeve of national life. I do not mean elephants and donkeys! And I do not mean to imply that symbols ought to be used as clubs to beat people with. The political use of your flag as a symbol of like-minded partisans means that it ceases to be the symbol of the nation in its entirety. This confers an additional legitimacy upon those who thus appropriate it, but it is an illegitimate legitimacy, if you will pardon the expression, and can only be a short-term advantage and a long-term loss. Whatever is appropriated by the few – or even the many – is automatically lost as a symbol of all. Surely this is obvious once stated.

So where are your symbols of wholeness, of completion? You used to speak of the melting pot and that was a symbol that expressed more than you logically intended, for – as a symbol – it included the unintended and unwanted and unnoticed effects as fully as the desired ones. Hence its usefulness. The mistake in your politics was to discard that symbol precisely when the disadvantages to that approach were surfacing. That is when its usefulness to you could have been greatest, as expressing not so much what you wanted, or wanted to believe, as what you actually had done, and were doing. If you will give even two minutes’ thought to the melting pot as a symbol you will see this.

Now to the central point of this. Partial minds do not complete or correct other partial minds. Only wholeness heals. That is what wholeness means! Wholeness is health, and it is holy as well. Therefore to heal your politics you must not think of throwing out one baby so as to restore the baby that was thrown out previously. Perhaps it is not so good an idea to throw out the bathwater!

You know that the Buddha is said to have said, “when you make a distinction, you make an error.” Well, how is one to make practical use of that very true insight? For after all we must make distinctions. We cannot live as cows in a field, accepting what comes and making no distinctions. It is not the place of people in bodies to be passive, and so – how live without error when one cannot live without making distinctions? I know only one way – to live making errors because one cannot avoid doing do but remaining aware that one’s distinctions are errors. Not a popular political platform! But it leads to less cocksure certainty, less intolerance, less impatience, less rejection of others – and therefore, you will find, less rejection by others. Surely all these are beneficial effects of a small change in attitude?

Now, if you must persist in thinking yourself right and others wrong, well, life has uses for that kind of certainty. It will not make your life easier but perhaps it is your fate. If so, perhaps you can remember that your adversary is still a part of the human family, that although he may have many disagreeable and even distressing personality traits, he is as valuable to All as you or anyone else – no less, no more. Perhaps without too much discomfort you can remind yourself – that is, you can hold in the back of your mind, at least – that you may be wrong; that you may be seeing incompletely; that your values may be in conflict with other values equally valid and even, potentially equally important to you.

So you say, “that being so, how can we act at all? How can we stand up for the values we cherish? How can we resist evil?” And the answer to that question or set of questions lies in the final formulation. When Jesus said “resist not evil,” do you think he was advocating surrender to evil? Was he perhaps ill-informed of the nature of the Romans, let alone his own people? No, as one would expect, his psychology was entirely sound.

Your New Age rhetoric often says “don’t give energy to it,” which is fine as far as it goes. However it is a capital mistake to attempt to define away evil, to sweep it into non-existence by a definition. Perhaps in the widest view of things there is no absolute evil – or perhaps there is! You should leave open the possibility, you know – but in any case from the point of view of anyone in a body some things are good and others not. How else can it be? It is one thing to point out that what is evil to one may not be evil when seen in the larger view – it is quite another to say that evil as such does not exist. What you value sets up for you what you see as evil. Regardless whether it is absolute evil, for you it is evil. It is good to remember that your partial view is not everything, for much evil comes into the world as a direct result of fighting evil. But it is not therefore desirable that one cease to fight evil.

Poverty is evil, suffering is evil, and inflicting them on others is particularly evil. And yet – poverty doesn’t have to be experienced as evil, and suffering can be transformational, and sometimes they are inflicted as a side-effect of a perceived necessity. So – does it not as always fall back to the question of judgment and perception? But be sure to put perception before judgment, not after!

Perhaps it would be as well to stress again the fact that “fighting evil” is a chief entry point for evil. In fighting Hitler you fire-bombed Dresden and killed 300,000 helpless men, women and children. The evil perhaps consists less in the act than in the fact that war so transformed people that decent men could make that decision and not see it as evil.

“Resist not evil” has other aspects. In resisting you are planting your feet. Is that good for mobility? First must come understanding, so that the times when one must plant one’s feet are reduced to the minimum! Otherwise you spend your life in an attitude of attack and therefore of defense. This is not remotely a healthy attitude.

If you wish to overcome evil, you must absorb it and transform it. And this can only come from extension not from contraction, surely. That is, from love, not from rejection or hatred.

These truths are hard for you to hear, I know that. Everyone has grievances, and fears. But the more you stoke the boilers, the hotter it gets, and the greater the danger that the regulator will fail – and then you have an explosion! It does no good to then say, “that isn’t what I wanted to do, I was concentrating on building up steam for good purposes.” Explosions do not inquire closely into motives.

The steam is caused by the suppression of contradiction, by the logical attempt to set your own values and ideas as absolutes – which they can never be. The internal steam-pressure will blow your boilers unless you begin deliberately to reduce that pressure – by bringing more of that content into consciousness.

In practice this means opening dialogues with those who oppose your views. Not as shouting matches, not as debates, not as revenge or the seeking of revenge, above all. The constructive approach is to seek the common ground – to express from each side the suppressed values in a safe and controlled process – that is, surrounded by love rather than fear. And this may be done more practically with symbols – shared symbols – than with any amount of logical argument. You may be absolutely right – what use is that, if the boiler explodes? And – you may not have been entirely right, you may have been only partially right, and your own denial may have been stoking the fire. I would say to you, it is very likely!

I was quoted in my old age as saying that the world might hold together if enough people would do the work they needed to do on themselves. It was not understood. I trust that you understand it a bit better now.

Yes. Thank you. An honor, you know. I assume that the headache I have been writing this through, this past hour, is merely the result of running higher-voltage energy, so to speak. Well worth it.

Well, you know, all skills require practice – the practice smooths the way and future practices go farther.

Yes. Thank you.

3 thoughts on “Carl Jung: Consciousness and unconsciousness in politics and life

  1. “In your day, it is harder to tell you the truth because you have all been mis-educated so long, and so insulated from reality by your long years in college and your association mostly with others whose background is similar. In my day – and even more in Lincoln’s day – it was understood that politics is based in interest.”

    The above is pulled from the Christmas day post. I’m quoting it here since the subsequent posts are all of a piece. I remember reading this one years ago; it struck me then and it strikes me now. Essentially b/c I so fundamentally agree with it. The vast majority of Americans have no sense of what their personal or communal interests are; an astounding achievement of gross political manipulation and power, if one cares to consider it.

    Of course it’s all coming apart now. The contradictions have grown too overweening and obvious. We are currently living through an epoch of parody – the age of the clown. There are no more honest liars in politics or positions of corporate power, everyone can see through the charade – some more perceptively and accurately than others, obviously. As a result, awareness of class and interest is inexorably rising and real politics may soon be in the offing again. It’s interesting though, b/c of my work I’ve come into close contact with ranchers/farmers and Native American tribes – rural peoples by and large. It has always struck me that they, more than any other groupings of people I’ve been associated with, are rarely confused about what their interests are – or the interests of those who work against them.

  2. Thank you, very timely!

    The brain seems to cling to familiarity – even when the familiar is something dreadful. What Jung describes is a strategy of fluidity facing change and the unknown. What we have hard-wired is a strategy of rigidity and complete collapse. It takes a willful effort to overcome the automatic strategy. And that is the problem we face as humanity now. Inner & outer movement, coping and even thriving in that. Few are willing and even fewer are capable of that. But maybe that is changing.

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