Tag Archives: the split figures of good and evil

The Conscious Perception of Opposites

“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 in the first half of life, 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.” — A Mid-Life Perspective: Conversations With The Unconscious.

The world today is in crisis. Though the Western mind has pursued it unaware for millennia, it has now created a dangerous tipping point. As we continue to live out the unconscious myth of God-likeness, so we make illusions of our highest ideals. We don’t know what Nature’s purposes are, but the conscious assumption is clear: “We would be as Gods”; whether knowing good and evil is not so certain.

The unconscious counter-pole (the inner value) which defines what we do that we don’t know we’re doing is a recent insight that goes deeper than ego and intellect. That we’re driven to subjugate nature is plain: it’s the law of ego-compensation, and all our creativity and resources are devoted to it. That it threatens to destroy us, we’re coming to understand but lack the self-knowledge to stop it.

It’s not as if the warning signs appeared out of nowhere with modern technology. The primitive nature of our destructive capacity is only brought into relief by it. But, if we would indeed be God-like in our self-appointed dominion over the earth, a more comprehensive view of life seems worth the effort.

Historically, we’ve given much lip-service to the biblical parables that describe the roots of our problems. Man’s hubris is a major theme of myth and religion. Ego-inflation is a dangerous form of possession. Intellectually, we may know that, but without higher values, ego is blind to itself.

Whatever truths the old religion holds, the contradictions are too transparent for modern sensibilities. Maybe the old adages only echo the hypocrisies of the past. But, if we reflect on our history with the new insights available, we may relate to some of the old truths we’ve left behind. Jung’s discussion of this parable from the Koran is found in his, The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, from which the following quotes are taken:

The story concerns Moses’ life-quest for meaning, as he related to his servant: “I will not cease from my wanderings until I reach the place where the two seas meet… though I journey for eighty years.” They reach their ostensible goal only to discover that a mishap has occurred. Moses said: “Bring us our breakfast, for we are weary from this journey.

But the other replied, “See what has befallen me! When we were resting… I forgot the fish. Only Satan can have put it out of my mind, and in wondrous fashion, it took its way to the sea… Moses said: “That is the place we seek… and they went back the way they had come...”

We get an idea here of how the unconscious operates. Leaving things behind is a motif that expresses the progression and regression involved in the stages of development. Consciousness can’t see beyond its own state, and the end-purpose appears first as Satan — but later proves to be indiscernible from the God-image:

And they found one of Our servants, whom we had endowed with Our grace and… wisdom. Moses said to him: “Shall I follow you that you may teach me for my guidance… the wisdom you have learnt?

“But he answered: “You will not bear with me, for how should you bear patiently with things you cannot comprehend?”… Moses said: “If Allah wills, you shall find me patient; I shall not… disobey you…” He said: “If you are bent on following me, you must ask no questions… till I myself speak to you concerning it…”

“The two set forth, but as soon as they embarked, Moses’ companion bored a hole in the bottom of the ship “A strange thing you have done!” exclaimed Moses. “Is it to drown her passengers that you have bored a hole…?

Did I not tell you,” he replied, “that you would not bear with me?”… “Pardon my forgetfulness,” said Moses. “Do not be angry with me…” They journeyed on until they fell in with a certain youth. Moses’ companion slew him, and Moses said: “You have killed an innocent man, who has done no harm. Surely you have committed a wicked crime.

Did I not tell you,” he replied, “that you would not bear with me?” Moses said, “If ever I question you again, abandon me; for then I should deserve it.

They travelled on until they reached a certain city. They asked the people for some food, but they declined… There they found a wall on the point of falling down. The other raised it up, and Moses said: “Had you wished, you could have demanded payment for your labors.

Now the time has arrived when we must part,” said the other. “But first I will explain those acts… which you could not bear with in patience… Know that the ship belonged to some poor fisherman. I damaged it because in their rear was a king who was taking every ship by force.” (Elsewhere, Jung described how a fisherman happened upon them, rescued them, and took them to the city.)

As for the youth, his parents are true believers, and we feared lest he should plague them with his wickedness and unbelief. It was our wish that their Lord should grant them another… more righteous and more filial.

“As for the wall, it belonged to two orphan boys… whose father was an honest man. Your Lord decreed… that they should dig out their treasure when they grew to manhood. What I did was not done by caprice. That is the meaning of the things you could not bear with in patience.

For a modern, poetic experience of the confrontation with the opposites from a psychological angle, click here, or visit Amazon.

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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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