Tag Archives: A Mid-Life Perspective: Conversation With The Unconscious

Ego in Fast-Forward

“Though the ego is only one complex of associations in the psyche, it has evolved as a coordinator: what it is drawn to as an object of attention will be where and how its energy is applied. These motives are based on unconscious processes, and only by turning conscious attention to them can we find deeper meaning and purpose beyond the preconceptions of ego and its one-sided, paradoxical intentions.” — A Mid-Life Perspective: Conversations With The Unconscious

Continuing Erich Neumann’s discussion of ego-inflation, it’s important to note that his observations were written in 1949 as a response to WWII. That spectacle of mass psychosis seems far distant to the current generation, though many of today’s decision-makers were shaped directly by the psychic conditions which produced it. It may seem that modern consciousness is accelerating at warp-speed, but this is an illusion created by ego’s identification with intellect and has little to do with consciousness in the sense of being self-aware. The tradition of repression which characterized the old ethic Neumann described is not so easily disposed of:

The instability of attitude which is caused by the presence of the counter-position in the unconscious is not confined to the average man, who, as a constituent member of the mass, makes up the following of all “movements”; it is also found — and this is even more dangerous — among so-called leading personalities such as educationists, teachers and politicians.”

As compelling as Neumann’s insights were in 1949, we’re in a better position to gauge their accuracy a generation later. The psychic tendencies he observed then are not only confirmed by the modern political landscape, they follow the same pattern collectively that he and Jung mapped out in individual psychology:

The incompetence of the politicians, which has become so cruelly… obvious to modern man, is essentially due to their human inadequacy — that is, to a moral undermining of their psychic structure which culminates in their total breakdown when faced with any real decision. To future ages, the fact that the leading politicians of our period were not required to pass a test of any kind to determine their human and moral qualifications will appear… as grotesque as it would seem to us today if a diphtheria-carrier were to be placed in charge of the children’s ward in a hospital.

Perhaps Neumann gave too much credit to the average man of his day; either way, it becomes more painfully obvious with each new change in the governing process, whether by force or election. There are important psychological reasons for this:

From the point of view of the new ethic, the moral inadequacy of the politician does not reside in the fact that on a conscious level he is not a morally acceptable personality — though there is no guarantee that he will be that, either! It is his total unconsciousness of the shadow and the illusory orientation of consciousness that accompanies this kind of unawareness which is the decisive — and often enough, the fatally decisive — factor.

Here, we enter the new reality show of modern American politics as foreseen by Neumann. The articulate deception which characterized the political process in the last century has devolved into the “sanctimonious hypocrisy and downright lying” mentioned in my last post. Because it’s an initial stage of ego-awareness, it’s rude, undeveloped and appears in negative form. It brings to the surface all that was hidden in the facade personality by exaggerating it to an extent that it becomes visible to all but the most uncritical.

It’s that energy of the unconscious counter-position (the shadow) which, since it exceeds conscious will, pushes the spiritual possession behind the inflated ego into awareness — but only to a reflecting mind.

The only person who is morally acceptable in the eyes of the new ethic is the person who has accepted his shadow problem — the person… who has become conscious of his own negative side. The danger that constantly threatens the human race and which has dominated history up to the present time arises out of the “untestedness” of leaders who may actually be men of integrity as understood by the old ethic but whose unconscious and unheeded counter-reactions have generally made more “history” than their conscious attitudes.

It’s an even more dangerous problem today in this new age of exaggeration and warp-speed intellect. What happens when the new leaders are no longer even men of integrity by the old standards, but the negative exponents of a new ego-driven reality that threatens to consume everything, including itself, for the sake its own image?

It is precisely because we realise today that the unconscious is often, if not always, a more powerful determinant in the life of a man than his conscious attitude, his will and his intentions, that we can no longer pretend to be satisfied with a so-called “positive outlook” which is no more than a symptom of the conscious mind.

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