Tag Archives: conflicts between the individual and society

Consciousness in Transition Continued

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. At the same time, however, it forms part of the nuclear structure of our individuality.”  — Erich Neumann.

My last post alluded to Neumann’s ideas of “conscience” vs. the “inner voice”; the “criminal” perception of those who conceived creative change throughout history as a rough sketch of the conflict, and also the exchange, between the individual and society and how solutions first appear via the unconscious. Here, I’ll try to clarify his insights into this process and how they relate to changes today:

The old ethic admits two reactions to the psychic situation created by conscience. Both are perilous but… to different degrees and with different results for the individual. The situation which is more… familiar to the average man is that in which the ego identifies itself with the ethical values. This identification takes place by means of an identification of the ego with the persona. The ego confuses itself with the facade personality (which of course in reality is only that part of the personality that is tailored to fit the collective), and forgets that it possesses aspects that run counter to the persona.

As Neumann stated in the opening quote, this shadow-side contains the core of our individuality and is repressed to the extent that we identify with collective beliefs and ideals. The inner voice concealed in it generally has a confusing and frightening quality that intrudes upon those who are predisposed to a certain openness to the unconscious beyond conscious will. It’s always contrary to what we’re taught. This is the means by which culture evolves and the value of the individual (despite the opposite presumption):

Owing to its identification with collective values, the ego… has a “good conscience”. It imagines itself to be in complete harmony with those values of its culture which are accepted as positive, and feels itself to be the bearer no longer simply of the conscious light of human understanding but also of the moral light of the world of values… In this process, the ego falls a victim to a very dangerous inflation… a condition in which consciousness is “puffed up” owing to the influence of an unconscious content. The inflation of the good conscience consists in an unjustified identification of a very personal value (that is, the ego) with a transpersonal value, and this causes the individual to forget his shadow (that is, his creaturely limitation and corporeality).”

Psychologically, this describes the history of religion to a tee; yet ego-inflation continues to increase with conscious development. Even as unconscious contents change along with it, this “god-like” condition becomes ever more personalized. Despite the new science (or maybe because of it) of our ‘creaturely limitations’ — our animal heritage and the paradoxical co-existence of a sophisticated cortex that would reach to the stars and a primitive hindbrain that would plunge us into savageries undreamt in Adam’s day — it’s the spirit of Nature that now threatens a modern apocalypse.

Repression of the shadow and identification with the positive values are two sides of the same process. It is the identification with the facade personality which makes the repression possible, and the repression in its turn is the basis of the ego’s identification with the collective values by means of the persona.

It’s little wonder Jung referred to the individual as “the only real carrier of life”; that nature’s creative urge can be expressed through it alone. The contradictions inherent in the unconscious interaction of opposites are too complex to grasp without a subjective relation to the irrational feelings and deep personal motives which are the counter-pole to rational thought.

The forms which may be taken by this ethical facade range from general illusion and an “as if” attitude to sanctimonious hypocrisy and downright lying. These false human responses to ethical demands are not confined to any one historical period; yet it is a fact that this pseudo-attitude has appeared with especial frequency in the history of the West in the past hundred and fifty years. Actually, Western man’s illusory self-identification with positive values, which conceals the real state of affairs, has never been more widespread than in the… epoch which is now coming to an end.

These observations provide a glimpse into the symbolic world of psychic reality. The creative/destructive aspects of nature favor that which lives in accordance with its laws and eventually displace that which does not. These objective values don’t change — only our relation to them. Ego-fixation is both a warning and a symbol. The warning is clear, the symbol is not; both need reflection:

Ego-inflation invariably implies a condition in which the ego is overwhelmed by a content which is greater, stronger and more highly charged with energy than consciousness, and which therefore causes a kind of state of possession in the conscious mind. What makes this state of possession so dangerous — irrespective of the nature of the content which lies behind it — is that it prevents the…  conscious mind  from achieving a genuine orientation to reality.

Click here for an example of how this subjective reality appears at mid-life or visit Amazon.

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