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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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A Mid-life Perspective: Preface — Part I

The world hangs on a thin thread; that thread is the psyche of man. How important is it to know something about it?” — Carl Jung.

Jung analogized the difference in time-perception between consciousness and the unconscious through the idea of a million year old man. How would the time-awareness of such a being differ from our more temporal viewpoint? How do we treat him; how does he react to the changes taking place today?

In my last post, I outlined the major themes of my book as stated in the preface. In the next three, I’ll offer the full text. These are the “facts of the case” for the million year old man as I understand them:

“The Human Animal

Civilization is a comparatively recent product when weighed against the immense stretch of time required for consciousness to emerge from the depths of instinctual nature. The beast tokens our animal ancestry, and the eons-long climb through the darkness of pre-history yet finds it just below the threshold of culture. As a symbol, it relates not only to our biological heritage through the body and its functions but to our sense of individuality, as it is through our bodies that we first experience ourselves as distinct and separate from others.

As humanity developed, the snake in the Garden evolved into Satan in the Old Testament, and both symbolize the opposition needed to distinguish conscious from unconscious. Each toddler repeats this contrary “no” stage in its development, and that opposition is a vital factor in the growth and consolidation of consciousness. It is a basic conflict between a “god-like” self-awareness set against a split-off instinctual heritage. The horns and tail of the Devil later became a graphic description of the animal urges repressed for their gradual conversion into the more humanizing social instincts embraced by Christian ideals.

As the newer myth took hold, the spiritual aim of building the soul, the personal relation to the Deity, sank beneath the weight of a still-developing and over-compensating collective ego, emphasizing the long, serpentine conflicts required for individual evolution. Psychologically and spiritually, ego-effects are a gauge of self-knowledge. Despite centuries of religious exhortation, they remain in much the same state now as in the past. The writer, Philip Wylie, described this idea as “the fatuous awe of the ape with the mirror.” The ape points not only to a stunted inner life but to regressive tendencies which both conceal and reveal the psychological dawn of those who would recognize and act upon their own inner opposition.

Nature and the Unconscious

This theme 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, just as it is repeated in the individual. 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 – a kind of collective mid-life change in the centering and organizing processes of the psyche. 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 and 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 oscillating poles of spirit and matter seek the undeveloped functions still in the sway of the old stage. 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.”

Next post: Ego and Intellect, Causality and Purpose.

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The ‘Doomsday Clock’ and the Midnight Transition

It is still three minutes to midnight,” the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists wrote… announcing an update to its famous Doomsday Clock, whose estimate of the risk of global catastrophe has been ticking back and forth since 1947… The time has not changed since 2015, however, when the Bulletin’s Science and Security Board last moved the minute hand, from 11:55 to 11:57. As the Bulletin’s somber, sometimes scathing public letter makes clear, that is not cause for celebration.” — The Christian Science Monitor.

In my recent post on the ‘Anthropocene Epoch‘, I tried to bring into relief a few ideas that point to the causes, effects, and purposes of the shift in values taking place today. They’re not simple; they represent fundamental changes in the way we’ve traditionally seen ourselves and the world.

I’ve quoted Jung, Neumann, and Wylie extensively in my attempts to accent the importance of tackling this transition with a mindset that inspects itself: one of the first steps in dissolving the projections that find our rational, outer-directed thinking increasingly unsustainable. Their ideas are well known; but here I’ll relate some of what I understand of them through the preface of my book:

Beneath our scientific preoccupations, we remain in the stage of psychological awareness reflected in our religious heritage. Behind the curtain of moral judgment lurk the split figures of good and evil: a model of how we relate to our unconscious natures. Jung has described how those ideas reflect the positive and negative poles necessary to produce psychic energy: the sliding scale along which consciousness fluctuates in its on-going efforts to define itself. Just as it forms the path of collective history, so in the growth of the individual… the repression of the unconscious required for ego to strengthen and develop now creates circumstances which signal the need for a new relation to it — to balance conscious direction; to relate it, make it relative to the counter-pole of inner development.

The inner counter-pole is a function of relation, not just in the religious sense of self-reflection and introspection, but for the individual to impact the world with creative reflections the group does not possess. This, as Jung has shown, is vital to understanding the unconscious demands that set the stage for changes in consciousness. Here, as stated in the preface, is a brief synopsis of the major themes in my book:

The Human Animal

Civilization is a comparatively recent product when weighed against the immense stretch of time required for consciousness to emerge from the depths of instinctual nature. The beast tokens our animal ancestry, and the eons-long climb through the darkness of pre-history yet finds it just below the threshold of culture. As a symbol, it relates not only to our biological heritage through the body and its functions but to our sense of individuality, as it is through our bodies that we first experience ourselves as distinct and separate from others….

Nature and the Unconscious

This theme 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…

Ego and Intellect

The identification of ego with intellect contributes to this problematic conception of nature. It long slumbered in Christian theology as identification with an otherworldly God and a disdain for natural life: an image of self-rejection – one of the reasons guilt weighs so heavily in traditional religious ideas. Both are compounded through this identity, the idea of a Deity now yielding to science as it dissolves the metaphysical projections. For all our rational knowledge, we remain driven by the repressed “natural man” who serves the sensual world of material desire – just as he did many thousands of years ago. He personifies the unconscious need for a wider psychological perspective than just an intellectual one – and the internal guilt we never came to terms with because we never understood the reasons for it…

Causality and Purpose

The causal thinking which orients our perception is opposed to the heavy, symbolic language of the unconscious. The one leads backward in time to a cause that produces effects, and the other leads forward to a purpose or goal without conceiving a cause. As a concept, the latter allows the thoughts, feelings, and intuitions evoked by images and symbols to shape themselves; to relate their associations to the pursuit of aims beyond conscious preconception…

Religious Images

Because it consists of a living history of our mental functioning, Jung wrote that any serious inquiry into the unconscious leads straight into the religious problem. This theme fully emerges in the second part of the book. As the poem proceeds, the intuitive side of religious ideas is explored. Job was the older anticipation of the individual who confronts the collective background to discover his or her own way; in so doing, a dialogue is entered into with the unconscious…

Alchemy

Jung’s devotion to the study of alchemy was an attempt to illustrate it as a connective stage between our historical religious outlook and the emerging scientific one. Alchemy was the intermediate form of the two views that later diverged. Like those of theology, alchemical ideas were psychic projections, though less collectively developed and therefore more expressive of natural tendencies…

Visit Amazon for a general description of my book. See, also, this post for an example of the poetry.

(Note: the themes described under the headings contain only the first paragraph of elaboration.)

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