After watching a program on Caligula, I found myself thinking about a quote from Jung’s Symbols of Transformation, in which he set out his theory of psychic energy. Historians have written volumes on the decline of cultures, the reasons, parallels with modern ones, etc. But, historians aren’t psychologists, and few psychologists are historians. Jung’s historical studies are what distinguished his work:
St. Augustine described the fate of Alypus in his, Confessions, in 398 A.D.: “But at Carthage the maelstrom of ill morals — and especially the passion for idle spectacles — had sucked him in, his special madness being for gladiatorial shows… As a result of what he had heard me say, he wrenched himself out of the deep pit in which he had chosen to be plunged and in the darkness of whose pleasures he had been so woefully blinded. He braced his mind and shook it till all the filth of the Games fell away from it and he went no more…”
Augustine told how Alypus went to Rome to study law, turned from the games, and detested his former passion: ”But it happened one day that he met some friends… coming from dinner: and though he flatly refused and vigorously resisted, they used friendly violence and forced him along with them to the amphitheatre on a day of these cruel and murderous Games. He protested: “Even if you drag my body to the place, can you force me to turn my mind and my eyes on the show? Though there, I shall not be there, and so I shall defeat both you and it.”
When they found their seats, “… the whole place was in a frenzy of hideous delight. He closed up the door of his eyes and forbade his mind to pay attention to things so evil. If only he could have stopped his ears too! For at a certain critical point in the fight, the vast roar of the whole audience beat upon him. His curiosity got the better of him, and thinking he would be able to treat the sight with scorn… he opened his eyes, and was stricken with a deeper wound in the soul than the man he had opened his eyes to see suffered in the body.”
He wrote that Alypus’ weakness was his self-reliance (the illusions of collective ego) when he should have trusted only in God (the unconscious urge for unity and wholeness in the symbol). “Seeing the blood he drank deep of the savagery. He did not turn away but fixed his gaze upon the sight. He drank in all the frenzy with no thought of what had happened to him, revelled in the wickedness of the contest, and was drunk with lust for blood. He was no longer the man who had come there but one of the crowd to which he had come, a fit companion for those who had brought him.”
To end the passage, Jung wrote: “One can take it as certain that man’s domestication cost him the heaviest sacrifices. An age which created the Stoic ideal must doubtless have known why and against what it was set up.” He compared the age of Nero four and a half centuries earlier with a quote from Seneca’s forty-first letter to Lucilius: “We push one another into vice. And how can a man be recalled to salvation, when he has none to restrain him, and all mankind to urge him on?”
Jung saw Christianity as a deep need for “… the founding of a community united by an idea, in the name of which they could love one another… a mediator in whose name new ways of love could be opened, became a fact, and with that human society took an immense stride forward. This was not the result of any speculative, sophisticated philosophy, but of an elementary need in the great masses of humanity vegetating in spiritual darkness… evidently driven to it by the profoundest inner necessities, for humanity does not thrive in a state of licentiousness.”
In the West, the age of sacrifice for anything much more than our biological natures is fading, though a frenzied new mass greed finds us still with just enough self-knowledge to keep us above a tide of unconscious emotion which can ignite as surely as history dictates who we are. Today, over thirty wars are being fought worldwide, and whole cultures are drawn into the frenzy of the spectacle just as in Augustine’s day.
Consciousness is changing quickly, but a deep part of the new mass individual remains stuck in an era already in decline before it developed. What happens when the ideas constituting humanity’s “immense stride forward” sink into oblivion, no longer visible through its illusions of objectivity; when the deeper image, too, is repressed by an ego which cannot of itself relent in its unconscious efforts to destroy its own hubris with its own creations?
The beast of historical regression rages openly in the Middle East; the mass mind compelled into its global implications. It’s what religious ideas were meant to counter: to develop the animal lurking beneath ego-ideals. To confront it requires an inward struggle — to keep the twenty-first century from becoming an immense stride backward.
Read more about the symbolic entanglements which would turn the confrontation with ourselves into an image of the individual beyond the illusions created by the modern greed of mass media, diversion, and deception.