“But, that for every prompting we obey, the risk of opposite result is set up, few Western men are willing to consider in relation to themselves. It shakes every pretension to our society. To a… materialistic “civilization” it proposes… that orientation toward objects has put the whole subjective nature of society in jeopardy. We may go mad — or be mad.” — Philip Wylie, 1947.
This quote was from an earlier post in which I highlighted Jung’s insights into our current cultural transition from a traditionally religious-based value-system to a rational scientific world-view. Here, I return to Wylie’s interpretations of Jung’s work to stress the historical psychic conditions which have fashioned the most catastrophic vision of nature consciousness has ever conceived: objective science.
WWII and its unprecedented technology of destruction might have suggested a new relation to the unconscious nature which produced it. Well, it did for a while — until more diverse forms gave us ever newer diversions to repress the chaos and confusion of a subjective world whose emotional center of gravity has shifted toward an irrational belief in more physical science as the answer:
“Health authorities make maps of areas and ages to show how these people were felled by typhus, those by avitaminosis, others by syphilis, cholera, smallpox or malaria… the day is coming when maps will trace the subjective viruses and show how an overweening pride undid the Semitic conquerors… how Napoleon’s France fell to the mass identification with a single Hero archetype, and how it was an inferiority complex that gnawed away the German Reich… For diseases of the mind are greater killers of nations than things which wriggle and flagellate. And neither universal public health nor economic stability is any panacea for this other category of plague.“
Wylie’s seventy-year-old observations take on new significance as the need for an inner perspective gains momentum. How can we, as individuals, understand the collective ego-compensations that form our modern conceptions of ourselves?
“The adaptability of man is great enough so that he is able to maintain social forms and carry out national programs with a seeming of normality long after his psychological infection has spread beyond hope of recovery… for, whatever the disorientation or illusion may be, it is so widely shared that any evidence of insight is itself regarded as a perturbation of the mind.”
So, individual insight into human behavior is conceived by collective standards as subversive; liable to create dangerous effects if unchecked, though the general approach today to the inevitable consequences of our subjective natures for the purposes of increased self-awareness is to ignore and repress it.
“Mental epidemics are not like physical plagues. Symptoms there may well be, and symptoms violently alarming to the afflicted group; but, when the sickness is severe… and general enough, its universal symptom is that it’s concealed. It disguises itself as “realism” and the very proof of good mental health — and there is no way for the people to tell that they are mad.
“To the individual, the entering virus is a small thing, a conversion or an indoctrination, the re-arrangement of a few electrons in his brain; the act is customary and the reward to ego is large. Religion not only relieves him of the distressing responsibility of being an animal, but elevates him to a godship — kept conditional, that the church may hold dominion over him. Patriotism makes him that most superior… of all human beings, a Spaniard, a Dutchman, an… Englishman — or an American, the inhabitant of God’s country.”
This may sound extreme to the nationalistic ideologues who now compensate the global trend toward (at least) commercial cooperation. The latter’s aim may be a result of subverted values for material gain, but it remains one more subjective step toward the acceptance of the other in the face of historical biases:
“The common patriot, Hindu or Hoosier, and the common bigot, Brahmin or Baptist, are madder powder-makers than all the merchants of death and the military men together.
“Beneath the egotism… the instincts demand, not security; but the opportunity for satisfaction. Security — some safe and standstill status quo — is never the main business of instinct, but evolution, the increment of consciousness, which holds dear the individual or the group only so long as the greater purpose is served. The moment the rising consciousness is inhibited by men, the instincts commence to destroy those men and their works, keeping the process hid under some good name or blessed program.“
Lest we lose sight of the higher purposes beyond the partisanship of competing ideologies; or the values of democratic principles that empowered the individual with “certain inalienable rights” such as history had never known, consider the psychological aspects of our modern predicament:
“But we Americans have not much utilized the knowledge and we do not much have the machinery in our minds to find out how to begin to use it. We invest our greatest passion in the contrary attempt… Before there… was a germ theory, poxes and black death were regarded as scourges from heaven or… hell. In these days, we have exactly the same attitude toward the psychological sources. We see that we are behaving foolishly — or ridiculously, but we do not see that what we believe is foolish and vicious.“