Instinct, Reason, and Subjectivity

“The latest large event — the engineering of a large-scale atomic chain-reaction, because it involves not just the opinions but the bodies of our species, too — has waked up every archetype, every instinct, in the billion-year-old breast of humanity. It is hoped by multitudes that the psychological shock will have even more benefit… in better times… from all the fragments of atoms men can harness. It may, if a man at last appreciates he is an animal and takes charge of himself instead of tendering the charge to religion…” — Philip Wylie, An Essay On Morals, 1947.

As the once culturally binding religious and patriotic identifications of the last generation have steadily dissolved into more personalized forms of instinct-ego-possession, so have centuries of human conflict continued to shape a natural world to its one-sided reality. The relentless pursuit of conscious aims unmoved by consequence, as Wylie inferred, now harbors an unspeakable destruction.

The further splintering of nationalistic and ideological interests today has only magnified the threats portended by WWII; though the psychological shock has been numbed by new diversions. Science may have realer benefits for humanity, as Mr. Wylie noted: “If we, who have proceeded to this magnificent truth by applying integrity to objects… now apply it equally to subjectivity and develop the science of our inner selves — the morality — that matches the outer knowledges.

“The reasoner, that is, must become reasonable concerning himself, lest the findings he has made by reason destroy his very body through a seeming of incomprehensibility and of irrationality which drives his reason mad. Panic — national schizophrenia — universal paranoia — whole societies in manic ecstasy and depressive melancholia — such has been the historical panorama of mankind…”

Though Hitler’s Germany was the most tangible threat imaginable in the last century, the threats today are so diverse, diffused and intertwined, so subjective and integral to civilization today that catastrophe can no longer be measured solely by objective events.

The unseen danger lurking behind the current fix is the subversion of nature by a partially developed consciousness too technologically sophisticated and too unconsciously destructive to sustain it. It’s as if Hitler presaged the coming of a new ego-stage — now the common vision of a whole host of littler authorities but in no less fantastic guise.

It is a common fallacy to believe that instinct is itself wicked, bestial, or witless… Moreover, the fashion for twenty or thirty thousand years had been to ascribe all good to the gods, and, for some centuries more, to ascribe gods to conscious logic — a trick by which the intellectuals have grossly inflated their egos. Reason, the sophisticates say, is “good” — all else irrational, and if not sinful, at least, non-good. Thus is instinct indicted.”

Not only has Jung empirically described our deeply-rooted hostility to nature as a subjective condition made concrete through a profound lack of psychological understanding — the archetypal images behind it projected into forms so diffuse as to be altogether lost today — the illusion of this psychologically primitive ego-quality drives us as surely as it did in biblical times; only now in a vastly more complicated and temporal world where the only gods are human.

“Instinct is timeless; seen as enduring energy it is not evil… For, out of the conflict of its opposed forces it has developed awareness for a billion years… until it flowers in man as consciousness of Time itself — past and future — and consciousness of Mind itself. To seize from this immense evolution of subjectivity one function — the newest and least developed, Reason — to make it the platform of ego and to consign all else to limbo is as illogical as to pretend that an eye or a kidney is a person and that the meaning of the whole being is expressed by vision or excretion. Reason is by such means made a “faith” and practiced as another religion.

“Many… have become convinced as if of good and evil in this way and define any broader theorem by their own, unconscious opposites. They call all such ideas “mysticisms” — perennial epithet of the baffled! Instinct seen whole creates infinitely more than it destroys; seen in pieces, it confuses.

“The instinctual conditions of men — obsessions, I ought to say — have become plain in the atomic light. The military men look in such and such directions and thus see such and such landscapes on the future. The scientists observe another set. The churchmen bear testimony to a third. The average citizen has his head jerked this way and that from one forbidding prospect to another… he makes a logical intelligent summation of his opinion — according to his previous pattern. He sets himself, that is to say, against whatever he secretly fears the most. But that he was already set, he knows no more than soldier, physicist, or priest…”

Times have changed somewhat since 1947 — but not for the better, I think. Commercial media, in its infancy then, has burgeoned into such an all-embracing ideology in itself, it defies any moral standard (the new ego-stage) — more willfully, purposefully and methodically than any religion history has ever seen. Add the legislation of political corruption, a world-consuming regression to materialism and a mistrust of anything beyond the senses (because, unreal), and you may see the true character of the modern mass-man and the destruction created by the projection of inner images.

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