Tag Archives: the individual’s relation to culture

Political Reality

“The underlying tension of the individual’s relation to culture… is a fundamental conflict of psychic life, a catalyst for development from infancy to old age. If the individual cannot discern him/herself apart from these impersonal forces, he/she is unconsciously carried along by them, and this herding effect only magnifies the dangerous potential of mass movements. All unconscious conflicts have a dual nature: subjective and objective, personal and social, creative and destructive. Their opposing tendencies converge in the psyche, and they determine our actions. How we perceive and evaluate them will decide our future.” — A Mid-Life Perspective: Conversations With The Unconscious

As I wrote in my last post, the political landscape has changed since Jung shared his observations in 1957. Spiritual values, however rudely conceived, appeal to a fast-shrinking minority whose leadership is increasingly irrelevant today. But, the facts of nature that science would educate us to are no more incorporated than were the religious ideals of two thousand years ago.

The compensations for the repression of the soul, the reality of the individual, are reflected in impersonal ideologies: emotional harbor for the mass social units under the direction of those manipulating them for their own ends. But, as Jung wrote:

The rulers… are just as much social units as the ruled… distinguished only by the fact that they are specialized mouthpieces of the State Doctrine. They do not need to be personalities capable of judgment, but thoroughgoing specialists who are unusable outside their line of business. State policy decides what shall be taught and studied.

Today, rather than a “State policy”, we might say a “majority ideology”; though those vying for it are so polarized that a single policy can’t describe the conflicting ideas in them. Jung’s observations still apply:

The… doctrine is for its part manipulated in the name of… policy by those occupying the highest positions in the government, where all the power is concentrated. Whoever, by election or caprice, gets into one of these positions is subject to no higher authority; he is the… policy itself and within… limits… can proceed at his own discretion… He is thus the only individual or, at any rate, one of the few… who could make use of their individuality if only they knew how to differentiate themselves from the… doctrine.

They are more likely, however, to be the slaves of their own fictions. Such one-sidedness is always compensated psychologically by unconscious subversive tendencies. Slavery and rebellion are inseparable correlates. Hence, rivalry for power and exaggerated mistrust pervade the entire organism from top to bottom… to compensate its chaotic formlessness, a mass always produces a “Leader,” who… becomes the victim of his own inflated ego-consciousness.”

Modern conditions are more complicated than George Orwell’s ‘Big Brother’ once suggested, though their effects are the same. The concentration of power is more diffuse; the “Leader” more a figure-head for those behind the scenes dictating policy through the buying and selling of influence. Mass media and commercial manipulation accomplish the same goals more easily through benign subversion than threat and intimidation. Still, the facts of its unconscious reality will sooner or later be impressed on an inflated ego.

This development becomes logically unavoidable the moment the individual combines with the mass and thus renders himself obsolete. Apart from the agglomeration of huge masses in which the individual disappears anyway, one of the chief factors responsible for psychological mass-mindedness is scientific rationalism, which robs the individual of his foundations and his dignity. As a social unit he has lost his individuality and becomes a mere abstract number in the bureau of statistics. He can only play the role of an interchangeable unit of infinitesimal importance.

It’s an historical fact that only the individual’s creative responses to collective conflicts point the way to different perceptions of them. The personal “neuroses” of today are the conscious psychic functions of tomorrow, and as more and more individuals are forced to confront themselves through them, so they may create a new attitude to the psychological facts of our conditions. But:

Looked at rationally and from outside… it seems positively absurd to go on talking about the value or meaning of the individual. Indeed, one can hardly imagine how one ever came to endow individual human life with so much dignity when the truth to the contrary is as plain as the palm of your hand…

Under these circumstances it is small wonder that individual judgment grows increasingly uncertain of itself and that responsibility is collectivized… and delegated to a corporate body. In this way the individual becomes more and more a function of society… whereas, in actual fact, society is nothing more than an abstract idea… The State [the ideology] in particular is turned into a quasi-animate personality from whom everything is expected. In reality it is only a camouflage for those individuals who know how to manipulate it.”

Leave a Comment

Filed under Psychology