Commercialization and the New Mass Man

“In the course of Western development, the essentially positive process of emancipating the ego… from the tyranny of the unconscious has become negative. It has gone far beyond the division of conscious and unconscious… and has brought about a schism between them; and, just as differentiation and specialization have degenerated into overspecialization, so this development has gone beyond the formation of individual personality and given rise to an atomized individualism.” — Erich Neumann, 1954

So wrote Neumann in, The Origins and History of Consciousness. In Appendix II, Mass Man And The Phenomena of Recollectivization, he elaborated:

Whereas on the one hand we see ever larger groups of overindividualized persons, there are on the other hand ever larger masses of humanity who have detached themselves from the original situation of the primary group… Both these developments tend to lower the significance of the group as a unit of persons consciously or unconsciously bound together, and to exalt the mass as a conglomeration of unrelated individuals.

In a previous post, I discussed The Hidden Persuaders (1960), in which Vance Packard detailed the commercialization of psychology for the exploitation of consumers in the interests of business and industry. This rude use of the lowest levels of self-knowledge has only deepened the schism he and Neumann saw taking hold of contemporary culture many decades ago. The opportunistic cultivation of our recent identification with science and the material world is both cause and effect of deeper processes which only magnify our fixation on things. Neumann:

… while the clan, tribe, or village is as a rule a homogeneous group descended from a common origin, the city, office, or factory, is a mass unit. The growth of these mass units at the cost of the group unit only intensifies the process of alienation from the unconscious. All emotional participations are broken down and… exist only in a narrowly restricted personal sphere.

The “overindividualized person” whose emotional relations are weakened is carefully conditioned to identify feelings with material substitutes, abetting a process as symbolic as it is destructive. It’s a big a payday for mainstream psychology, though, just as it is for the business interests it has come to serve. The more alienated we are, the more we feel the unconscious pressures of emotions designed to orient us to an inner reality we can never grasp without bringing them into consciousness.

The unconscious naturally attempts to direct us inwardly (where the problems are centered), and this finds us increasingly obsessed with ourselves; though, with no understanding of its deeper purposes, the self-urge remains stuck in the narrowly personalistic forms described by Neumann and re-appears as an egotistical self-interest.

When the anxieties compensating our self-neglect are misunderstood, we look to the experts. But, few psychologies today speak to why, or as Jung said, “for what purposes” we feel troubled. No less than anyone else caught in the collective spirit of our times are psychologists immune from their effects.

But, don’t tell me they don’t know the problems are emotional; the facade of knowledge needed to compete for consumers precludes them from looking outside the medical paradigm and into the dark, uncertain mirror of psychic images. Though they reflect our deepest natures, symbols don’t make sense to the rational intellect of today.

This literal re-visioning of our world-view by science and technology reinforces the mass emotional manipulation which began in Neumann’s and Packard’s time, and our subjective realities are more and more subverted by media to maintain the unconsciousness which supports commercial interest-groups. But, artificial substitutes offer only illusory satisfaction. Neumann:

As has long been observed, in the place of a group… there now appears a mass unit like the State, a purely nominal structure which, in the manner of a concept, comprises a variety of different things, but does not represent an idea that springs as a central image from a homogeneous group. Romantic attempts to revalue or to reverse this development necessarily result in regressions, because they take no account of its forward tendency and misunderstand its connection with the historically positive evolution of… consciousness…

In our culture there has been a steady… undermining of the psychological foundations of the group which expresses itself in mass-mindedness, in the atomization and conscious internationalization of the individual. One result of this expansion of consciousness is that, regardless of conflicting national ideologies, every modern consciousness is confronted with that of other nations and races and with other cultures, other economic patterns, religions, and systems of value… the original group psychology… becomes relativized and profoundly disturbed…

The global revolution which has seized upon modern man and in whose storm center we find ourselves today has, with its transvaluation of all values, led to a loss of orientation in the part and in the whole, and daily we have new and painful experience of its repercussions in the political life of the collective, as well as in the psychological life of the individual.

This was 1954, and the first generation conditioned by mass commercial media has spawned a new one so immersed in its technology today that it can’t think outside it. This is the new norm to which mainstream psychology would adjust us.

Jung and Neumann have provided the conceptual foundation to connect with nature’s symbolic language. Much intellectual information has been supplied, and yet examples of the poetic state of mind which would allow us to experience the emotions in it are few.


Filed under Psychology

4 Responses to Commercialization and the New Mass Man

  1. Ted

    First, this blog is terrific, thank you for sharing your writing. There’s so much in this post and others I hardly know where to begin. BTW, this is the first post I seem to be able to offer a comment. I was able to see where I could log in, but no way to register. I have been anxious to reach out, and am glad to finally be able to do so.

    A few thoughts about this post. As I understand it, we’re pretty much the same, biologically speaking, as humans that lived say 75,000 years ago – more or less, our biology is a constant. It seems to me, then, that the variable “thing” that differentiates us from those earlier humans would be technology.

    I wonder, if that’s the case, if the “over-individualized” person is one who finds it difficult to integrate what technological change “means” to their life.

    Especially now given the rate of technological change, one can expect the everyday world to be much, much different at the end of one’s life than it was at the beginning. How long has that been the case? Given that, it wouldn’t surprise me that one would place value (good and bad) on the objects produced by this variable force.

    Consider the concept of the iPhone unboxing video. Someone waited all night, outside, in line, to be one of the first to hand over some of their money. They then record themselves removing the shrink-wrap, carefully disassembling the packaging and revealing what’s inside. Then, perhaps most interestingly, other people watch that video!

    You have another post where you write a blistering critique of Neuman’s concept of centroversion. I am not sure that I understand it as well as you, but I don’t understand why you hold this concept in such contempt. Do I understand you?

    The clan, tribe, and village, was stable because it had myths that helped an individuals integrate the inner and outer worlds. Isn’t that essentially what this concept is about?

    If change in the outer world outpaces our ability to make sense of it, then maybe we have two choices, one to focus on the objects of that change. The other would be to check out entirely.


    • Ted,
      Thank you for your comment and the compliment, too. Actually, I get a lot of spam, and I get tired of dealing with it when I’m writing and sometimes I close comments for a while. Thanks for your persistence and patience. My post about Neumann’s concept of centroversion was intended to poke fun at materialist philosophy, and the satire was maybe a little too subtle for anyone unfamiliar with my sense of humor. I thought it might be and am considering re-writing it, because I think Neumann was a brilliant and intuitive psychologist who carried Jung’s work forward impressively. Sorry about the confusion; it was my off-beat viewpoint, and I could have written it much better. I think your last statements show your grasp of it; however, I would like to add that our focus on objects can only be balanced by an introverted appeal inwardly. We are the ones who create the changes, the objects, the technology, and I think it’s important that we try to understand the reasons and the purposes behind it — as symbols of psychic needs. This is the reason I value Neumann’s work so much: he widened Jung’s concept of the Self through his centroversion and elaborated it as a regulating and balancing function. His concern was that when it’s repressed and remains unconscious through the exclusive focus on objects (science and technology), we lose connection with inner values and a primitive mass psyche re-emerges though in regressive and destructive form.
      Thanks so much for your reply,

      • Ted

        >> and the satire was maybe a little too subtle for anyone unfamiliar with my sense of humor…

        Woosh! Sorry, I completely missed that.

        >> I would like to add that our focus on objects can only be balanced by an introverted appeal inwardly. We are the ones who create the changes, the objects, the technology, and I think it’s important that we try to understand the reasons and the purposes behind it — as symbols of psychic needs

        Well said, I can see this. Very interesting, I will think on it.

        Last, I bought your book. 🙂 I am glad to be connected and look forward to more of your posts.

        • Ted,
          You’re not the only one who missed it, believe me. I’ve since put a note explaining that it was a parody, and the fault was mine. It didn’t dawn on me then that some of the critiques I’ve read of Jung’s concepts sounded as silly as a parody of them.
          Thank you so much for your support. I’ve been told that the book is dense, and because it derived from dreams and Jung’s work, it’s not necessarily an easy read. Because our thinking today trends toward the rational side, and because I too was consumed by it, the unconscious was determined to set my thinking in a different direction at mid-life. The book is as much about that transition from rational to symbolic thinking as it is mid-life — as well as a tribute to Jung and Neumann. The tools they provided for connecting with the irrational side of nature and the unconscious (the “poetic” mind) were invaluable. Please feel free to contact me any time. Thanks again!

          P.S. I hope you enjoy the book. Let me know what you think about it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *