Consciousness in Transition

A large part of education will always be devoted to the formation of a persona, which will make the individual… socially presentable, and will teach him not what is, but what may be regarded as, real; all human societies are at all times far more interested in instructing their members in the techniques of not looking, of overlooking and of looking the other way than in sharpening their observation, increasing their alertness and fostering their love of truth.” — Depth Psychology and a New Ethic — Erich Neumann.

An historical view of our development will attest the fact that we’re currently entering a new stage of consciousness. A brief look at the scientific advances of the last century ought well convince the most hardened skeptic. The intellectual creativity and focus required for them are truly astounding. But, the increase in focus they represent is at the expense of another vital function of a more diffuse nature, a different kind of awareness: the religious function.

While Neumann’s quote may not apply to the relatively few specialists who’ve thrust intellectual objectivity into the collective spotlight, their love of truth is restricted mainly to the material world. Another reality lurks behind today’s fascination with objectivity. Psychic law dictates that the greater our focus on objects, the more we lose sight of the subject — ourselves: what we do with things and how we relate to life, its purposes and meaning. Human instincts are finely tuned to an irrational earthly existence, now obscured by rational truths — yet still driven by age-old spiritual fantasies. Neumann:

Every kind of restriction may be imposed by the collective. But whether it is a case of a taboo in a primitive tribe, a social convention or a moral prohibition, whether it is a question of not mentioning certain subjects or of not admitting certain facts or of behaving as if certain non-existent entities in fact existed or of saying things which one does not mean or not saying things which one does mean — every time it makes one of these demands the collective will be guided be certain principles which are vital to…  the development of consciousness. Without these values it could not exist — or such, at least, is its firm conviction.

Neumann here puts his finger on the modern dilemma; for, these same values, without which we’re convinced humanity can’t exist, now threaten to destroy the civilized world. From constant global tensions to open hostilities to outright war; from the willful destruction of our habitat for no more than our own greed and convenience to the sheer waste of finite resources built into it (all of which would be deemed psychotic in the individual), the shadow-side of our collective natures — the regressive ideologies, stunted politics, run-away technologies, fake news, and all the rest — conspires against us.

The ego will receive the reward of moral recognition… to the exact extent to which it succeeds in identifying with the persona, the collectivised facade personality — the… reason being that this facade personality is the visible sign of agreement with the values of the collectiveFrom this point of view, it makes no difference whether the persona-personality by means of which ego identifies itself with the demands and values of society… belongs to a medicine man or a solicitor, a chieftain or a party functionary, a king or an artist. It is equally irrelevant whether the society which imposes this collective mask… is primitive or civilised, democratic or Fascist.”

Neumann goes on to discuss the “contrast between “conscience” and the “inner voice” as a basic conflict between the individual and society which creative design is to raise consciousness beyond the torpor of convention and adapt it to ever-changing conditions, internally as well as externally, for consciousness evolved to adapt in two directions at once. “This contrast is most clearly exemplified in the founders of new religions and ethical movements; these were invariably “criminals”, and it was inevitable that they should be treated as such. Abraham… Jesus and Luther… all these were regarded as criminals…

On the authority of conscience, the persona excludes a number of psychic components. In part, these are repressed into the unconscious, but in part, too, they are controlled by the ego and consciously eliminated from the life of the personality. All those qualities, capacities and tendencies which do not harmonise with the collective values — everything that shuns the light of public opinion, in fact — now come together to form the shadow, that dark region of the personality which is unknown and unrecognised by the ego.”

These psychic facts are “the expression of our own imperfection and earthliness, the negative which is incompatible with the absolute values… our inferior corporeality in contradistinction to the absoluteness and eternity of a soul which “does not belong to this world”. Such has been our general history up to the last generation…

But, it can also appear in the opposite capacity as “spirit”, for instance when the conscious mind only recognises the material values of this life. The shadow represents the uniqueness and transitoriness of our natures… it is our own state of limitation and subjection to the conditions of time and space.

Here we enter a modern phase of spiritual possession in which the old values and ideals begin the transition into their opposites — in full accordance with psychic law. Since the shadow contains all that’s incompatible with the collective values with which the ego-facade identifies; and since these values have unconsciously shifted from a subjective search for truth to the ‘objective’ world through a symptomatic (and symbolic) obsession with it, ego identifies not only with the forgotten gods of its projected history, but seeks to further transcend its nature by identifying with the new god of it’s own intellect.

(My next post will be a continuation of this one.)


Filed under Psychology

2 Responses to Consciousness in Transition

  1. Thank you, Evan, for calling our attention to the work of Erich Neumann. He is much more collective oriented than Jung. By emphasizing the persona during education, the society self-organizes its collective shadow and participation mystique.

    Regarding the role of science: on the one hand it has progressed considerably concerning the understanding of the laws of nature which determine also the
    human psyche and the functioning of social systems, on the other hand, as you say, our psyche perverts and deforms the scientific findings to the extent that they become destructive. The basic principle of systems science is wholeness and wholeness signifies including the human psyche. Otherwise, the understanding which man has of himself is incomplete. Systems science destroys also the myth of exact knowledge: The evolution of complex systems is inherently unpredictable. That is the point where the religious function intervenes, where science and religion can/must come together again. Systems science can contribute many aspects to the constitution and maintenance of this renewed alliance, but the scientific community has difficulties to understand the significance of her own finding and to apply it herself.

    “Psychic law dictates that the greater our focus on objects, the more we lose sight of the subject — ourselves.” Yes, because the sequence of factual events becomes more and more dense. It absorbs our attention and does not leave us the free time required for the deployment of the spiritual component. It is the lack of control by the spiritual component which creates the apocalyptic runaway of the solipsistic rationality. The rational paradigm fears spirituality as an existential threat instead of accepting it as a partner. It uses all kinds of weapons to eradicate it: consumerism, social media, manipulated media, etc. The principle of bipolarity is a basic law of nature and any attempt to suppress it has disastrous consequences for the dynamics of human systems.

    I look forward to read part two. Best regards – Peter

    • Peter,
      Your comment, I think, brings the importance of the subjective factor into view. The focus on objectivity tends to minimize its role in our thought, if we’re aware of it at all. Most rational thinkers aren’t, because it’s the antithesis of rationality. Despite the collective basis of religion, it must be reflected on subjectively to be meaningful, especially today as our individuality emerges more and more from its collective foundations. Objective facts represent unchangeable realities while subjective facts refer to developmental aspects of philosophical/spiritual ideas which reflect the changing nature of conscious and unconscious conditions.

      The rational paradigm fears spirituality as an existential threat instead of accepting it as a partner. It uses all kinds of weapons to eradicate it: consumerism, social media, manipulated media, etc. The principle of bipolarity is a basic law of nature and any attempt to suppress it has disastrous consequences for the dynamics of human systems.

      They are opposites, and Neumann’s ideas of the ‘old ethic’ bring into relief the importance of acknowledging the opposite in ourselves. That science and rationality are so closely tied to ego and the subjective factor is little understood. How and what we learn are so influenced by unconscious wishes and fantasy-symbols that the reasons we learn what we learn are not taken into account — much less their purposes. Our rationalization remain mostly hidden from the conscious view, and extraordinary personal efforts are required to discriminate deeper motives, something science as an institution will never be capable of. The new model you propose is one way, at least, of educating us to the principles of a higher understanding of ourselves through the empiricism of Jung’s psychology and not just the world we’re investigating.

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