Culture in Crisis

“Western culture, whose crisis we are experiencing today, differs from all others known to us in that, although a continuum, it finds itself in a continual process of change… The conventional division into classical, medieval, and modern is wholly fallacious… deeper analysis will show a picture of Western man in continuous movement and counter-movement, but moving steadily in a direction fixed from the very beginning: the emancipation of man from nature and consciousness from unconscious.” — Erich Neumann, The Origins And History Of Consciousness, 1954.

Since the beginning of time (or our conscious construct of it), our attempts to emancipate ourselves from the harsh reality of nature is understandable; but, recorded history is mostly humans in violent conflict with each other. That aspect of our inner nature remains unchanged since the first of days, and neither science nor religion can make sense of it without deeper understanding of the psychic facts behind it.

In a previous post, I sketched out some ideas that may seem random but which “hang together in a meaningful way”, as Jung phrased it. What appear as random ideas are associations to functions which, with knowledge and reflection, form a wider picture than conscious perception alone can see. Jung showed how only the symbolic view which perceives its own subjectivity can reconcile what logic sees as a paradox.

For a broader understanding of Neumann’s statement, I offer an overview of the empirical facts associated with the crisis we now find ourselves in. Though this crisis has been relentlessly (and unconsciously) pursued since Adam and Eve consumed that fascinating fruit which divorced us from our own natures, it’s clear that if we continue in this direction with the same unreflecting abandon, if we can’t come terms with our destructive tendencies, our loftiest dreams will become even more nightmarish than they already are.

Based on Jung’s and Neumann’s work, this excerpt is taken from an earlier post, though I think it bears repeating. It revolves around:

“… the image of the earth as a natural symbol of the unconscious. The earth and sun are the sources of all known life, suitable metaphors for the masculine and feminine forces which conceive it. Jung and Neumann have demonstrated that artifacts and symbols dating back to pre-patriarchal cultures intimately associate masculinity with light and consciousness, just as feminine images are associated with unconscious darkness and fertility: the earthly and the feminine, the creative matrix which bears and fosters the child of consciousness. Symbolically, masculinity refers to the heady principles of thought, the organizing of consciousness; the feminine principle dissolves separate tendencies to form emotional and physical relationships – properties of the soul.

The primitive mind long ago conceived the sun as spirit, reflecting processes which urged the coming of light to the dark, unconscious void of human origin. Earth and sun are psychological analogues for “feminine” relatedness — the oneness of the unconscious, the body, and the individual — and the dissecting, masculine character of consciousness. Together, they express the intermingling pairs of opposites and the penetrating form of their relationship. Male and female, spirit and matter, mind and body: all describe the two poles required for conscious orientation.

Primitive sun-worship anticipated a Christian myth “not of this world”. Both signify the urge to distinguish conscious from unconscious… The movement away from nature toward an artificial fantasy-sphere is a projection of over-extension. Jung and Neumann suggested that the natural process of separating the two psychic systems has deepened into such a division today that we can no longer relate to our instinctual foundations… Our intellectual inflation only accentuates our historical opposition to nature and the corresponding functions designed to relate us to earthly reality.

As the momentum of this drive toward conscious identity finds us alienated from ourselves, the unconscious attempts to re-orient us in the current swing by steering us back to itself, to nature… the earth, to our physical/emotional ground. The swing toward natural science describes a symbolic movement. The spiritual unfolding of our natures speaks only indirectly through its own language.

The creative spirit turns destructive when it is restricted to conscious aims and remains unconscious for too long, when a new stage is signaled. Our systematic abuse of the earth reveals an inner conflict… The artificial environment we have created in the relatively short swing back to the material world exposes our Christian disdain for nature as a symbol of our animal heritage and a “god-like” ego which cannot accept its origins or its subjection to natural laws. We are literally poisoning ourselves and our children, even as exaggerated fantasies pursue grandiose notions of “conquering” space — still driven by an inflated and unanchored ego which sees itself as “not of this world.”

 From: A Mid-Life Perspective: Conversations With The Unconscious.

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