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Ego, Reason, and the New Faith

“This is a world not of sciences, but of religions… And it is a peculiarity of most religions — indeed, a general condition of faith itself — that those who believe in one eschew all others, regard their God or their gods as the true divinity, and their system of conduct as alone irreproachable. Thus the heart of religions… consists of a superior intellectual posture, an absolute intolerance.” — Philip Wylie, An Essay on Morals, 1947.

A funny thing happened as I wrote this. In my previous two posts about Wylie’s thoughts on Jung’s work, I wrote that his book was published in 1954. I’ve since emended it, but I wondered how it happened — the central theme of the book: ego. My identification with the ideas transposed the copyright date into the year I was born.

It’s a little thing, but little things constitute big things. Jung wrote about the subjective viewpoint: “The difference in the case of a single apperception may, of course, be very delicate, but in the total psychic economy it makes itself felt in the highest degree, particularly in the effect it has on the ego.” Such subtleties may be reserved for the psychologist, though most educated people have an idea of the effects ego has on the practice of religion. Wylie:

Through its mechanism, such passion as man has for the truth, his earnest wish to be right, and his desire to excel among his fellow men lie open to perpetual exploitation while his laziness, his irresponsibleness, and his will to conform shape him for the most accessible religion or for that religion most convenient to the nature of his personality, whatever it may be. Fear is, moreover, the father and mother of every religion and of all the gods — their offspring, intellectual stupidity.

We have a different historical perspective today. The Church has lost its grip on collective life, and Wylie foresaw what the atomic age would bring:

For half a century, and until the present crisis, the articulate intellect of the West has been satisfied that the Grail will be found by the scientific method. This “method,” according to the commonest tenet, has already demonstrated that man is a chemical mechanism and thereby has shown that he has chemical needs (i.e., that man is “economic man”); it now merely remains for the physical truths of the universe to be exposed for the judgment and action of a creature that is basically reasonable, dependable and good. World happiness will ensue.”

Though Wylie never expressly referred to the development of intellect and of science as the historical emergence of the individual — the subjective factor — he aptly described it:

These assumptions represent a new Faith… but their subscribers… have found no means to associate insight with their own credulity. They have masterminded as much of the world as they could get their hands on. They are… the authors of the long, tedious cult of Realism. They have shown that religion is silly… the church an abomination. But… their disillusionments have been so numerous, so shattering, that their very behavior suggests they never had in mind a Principle but only a host of Sentiments mixed with a body of different little dogmas.

When, as in Russia, religion has yielded to “realism,” neither liberality nor humanitarianism has blossomed but only instinct regimented, internal ruthlessness, and an aggressive greed. Where the church has held sway, confusion has increased… Social discipline but turns… into professional regiments and tenders the keys of human zeal to opportunists… God’s disciplines give the keys to a Vatican or, in a “free country” to the vanity of every private Presbyterian.

So Communism has given way to the new “individual”, the regimentation of society no longer forced but craftily manipulated and sold back to us through a needy and regressive conformity. The greed and opportunism exploiting Marx’s ideal of an “economic man” hides now beneath the guise of freedom and democracy.

There is no Reason today in a whole world implemented by reason… A world wherein the best brains are no longer capable of turning back to the old gods. A world of physicists unmoved by Christian charity. A world four-fifths inhabited by the blindest bigots, born into credulity, worshiping snakes and ghosts and holy virgins. A world which has at last unlocked the secret of objects, whose strength is as the strength of suns because of the pure part of a few minds. A world of muscle, carnivorous, with a very little brain. A new dinosaur — man, destroying, huge — who dimly blinks at the shape of extinction, sees the coming of hunger in a planet his own strength has scourged. A stupid character who has sought violence as the means of his arrogant perfection and hypocritically to protect himself; who now sits in the gloom of an unradiant mind, waiting for radiation to consume his tissues. The one animal who ever feared himself — as well he might!

The unconscious god of fear is a religious one. The most basic facts of the psyche tell the story not of religion but of a religious attitude toward life.

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A Cultural Mid-life Crisis?

Though we generally think of mid-life as an individual process, as a universal function, it applies to cultural changes as well. The similarities are notable, and Jung’s, Two Essays on Analytical Psychology, highlights the parallels.

Regarding the conversion of opposites at mid-life, Jung wrote: “Just as before… disorders arose because… opposing fantasies were unconscious, so now other disorders arise through the repression of former idols.” The shift in focus over the last generation is undeniable; but increases in consciousness also depend on unconscious conditions:

It is of course a fundamental mistake to imagine that when we see the non-value in a value or the non-truth in a truth, the value or the truth ceases to exist. It has only become relative. Everything human is relative, because everything rests on an inner polarity; for everything is a phenomenon of energy. Energy necessarily depends on a pre-existing polarity, without which there could be no energy… Therefore the tendency to deny all previous values in favour of their opposites is just as much of an exaggeration as the earlier one-sidedness.

The point is not conversion into the opposite but conservation of previous values together with recognition of their opposites. Naturally this means conflict and self-division. It is understandable enough that one should shrink from it, philosophically as well as morally; hence the alternative sought, more often than conversion… is a convulsive stiffening of the previous attitude…. the symptoms, the rigidity, the narrow-mindedness… are unpleasant, not to say harmful; for their method of espousing a truth or any other value is so inflexible and violent that their umannerliness repels more than the truth attracts, so that the result is the opposite of the intended good. The fundamental cause of their rigidity is fear of the problem of opposites…”

Though religious fanaticism is an age-old euphemism for the fear of change, its cultural significance has declined since Jung’s time. The swing toward natural science continues to gain momentum since the so-called Age of Reason in the seventeenth century. But, as Jung noted, any conversion has its consequences. The rejection of religious values inherent in the shift toward science, however, is governed by the same general fear of inner opposition as the old extreme…

The brutality of the French Revolution which followed that lofty precursor of western rationalism continued unabated into the twentieth century. Jung wrote during WWI (remember? the War to end all Wars?): “…the rational attitude of culture necessarily runs into its opposite, namely the irrational devastation of culture.” A brief footnote in his 1943 revision reads: “As present events show, the confirmation did not have to wait very long.

“…one or other basic instinct, or complex of ideas, will invariably concentrate upon itself the greatest sum of psychic energy and thus force the ego into its service. As a rule the ego is drawn into this focus of energy so powerfully that it identifies with it and thinks it desires and needs nothing further. In this way a craze develops, a monomania or possession, an acute one-sidedness which most seriously imperils the psychic equilibrium.”

The shift from metaphysics to an “objective” science is the new monomania. Technology, media, and the atrophy of a collective value-system contribute to a paper-meche individualism while denying the subjective factor; contradictory unconscious tendencies whose energy exceeds intent appear only as conscious exaggerations. Ego-values subvert common goals and dissolve group-identities into anonymous aggregates — for those ambitious enough to exploit them. They’re beginnings of a new reality, but to understand what it points to requires a dual perspective  of unconscious functioning:

“The passion, the piling up of energy in these monomanias, is what the ancients called a “god,”… A man thinks he wills and chooses, and does not notice that he is already possessed, that his interest has become the master, arrogating all power to itself. Such interests are indeed gods of a kind which, once recognized by the many, gradually form a “church” and gather a herd of believers about them. This we then call an “organization.” It is followed by a disorganizing reaction which aims to drive out the devil…” The conversion into the opposite “… that always threatens when a movement attains to undisputed power offers no solution of the problem, for it is just as blind in its disorganization as it was in its organization.”

The decline of the Church means evolution, and it moves forward of its own accord. Only self-examination dissolves the projections of unconscious gods onto the ideologies that shroud the real personality. The seeds of their solutions begin with those who find meaning in their self-division; and our “bipolar” natures also provide symbolic solutions beyond conscious ingenuity. To think we would “cure” this condition only adds to the conflicts. Jung wrote of today’s misunderstanding of the psyche:

No matter how beautiful and perfect man may believe his reason to be, he can always be certain that it is only one of the possible mental functions, and only covers that one side of the phenomenal world which corresponds to it. But the irrational, that which is not agreeable to reason, rings it about on all sides. And the irrational is likewise a psychological function…”

This is surely the reason we were cursed with the “disease” of spiritual conflict: to explore the meaning and purpose of development; not just as individuals but as contributors to our evolution. Will we seek solutions to the excess energy of unconscious functioning through yet more technology?

The threat of extinction — the greatest power science owns — may force us to come to terms with it sooner rather than later. The development of unspeakable instruments of destruction implies reason and intent. This must be apparent to a psychology devoted to discovering how our minds work; that’s its business — isn’t it? Or maybe the business is part of the problem.

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Science, Religion, and Psychology: A Depth Perspective

At the end of my last post, I referred to what modern science and psychology are selling. For those interested in a more poetic expression, this excerpt begins on page 123 of A Mid-Life Perspective: Conversations With The Unconscious:

Divided thinking leads at last to conflicting goals:
To the two-way mirrors in the depth of all men’s souls;
Reflecting dual minds in which the opposites prevail
Yet only one can be observed through the conscious veil.
Even in the lofty labs of science this exists
Its subjective basis proven by the physicists:
The uncertain observations Heisenberg asserted
Were the limitations of their minds their thought perverted;
Though even these do not reflect the dark uncertain forms
Imposed by thought’s restriction to objective norms.
The conditions of the soul determine what men seek
The probable statistics are a modern double-speak.
What natural reality makes any sense at all
Without a concept of the purposes inherent in it?
Life would never have arisen on this earthly ball
Without the spirit everywhere apparent in it.
The faithful picture of the world such concepts have defined
Still are psychic products with conditions of their own;
And symbols weave their purpose through the conscious mind
In the secret depth to which itself remains unknown.
The uncertain relativity of modern science —
The deepest of realities the mind has yet discerned —
From the smallest particle to planetary giants
Reflects as well its two-way mirror when the glass is turned.
Such ideas are not conceived as psychic intuition
Though perceived to be the ground reality requires.
Even physics can’t escape the basis of cognition
Revealing inner aspects of the knowledge it acquires.
Through these secrets half-described in man’s imagination
Spirit, too, participates in matter’s dark foundation.                                             Nature’s secrets are elusive as her properties require —
Most of all within the matter of the soul’s desire.
The truths in her images the scientists have won
Lead below the world of things inside a deeper one.
Faust said long ago, “Two souls are dwelling in my breast” —
Now a proven fact the oldest atom will attest.
At the same time as Einstein a Swiss psychologist
Informed objective science of the very thing it missed:
The subjective factor – provable empirically —
Was a psychic analogue for space-time relativity.
This factor hides a deeper law than instruments reveal
For the law of man’s being is a factor he must feel…
Alas two psychic truths are dwelling in his head
Based on opposition like the physicists said.                                                                       “Each is feign to leave its brother,” just as Faust opined;
And one denied the other for the concepts it divined.                                                     The older one — the matrix men’s awareness can’t concede —
Is the very god-likeness their consciousness decreed
As an image of themselves and the wonders they begat
Perverting their own reason as a price for that.
A deeper opposition yet resides within
The partial values in the minds of thinking men:
Like salesmen they construct a future shopping mall
At the same time hoarding weapons to destroy it all…
Men are only objects in these dark imaginings;
Themselves reduced to ciphers in a world of Things.
What man if he had ever drunk from spirit’s well
Could quench his thirst with the technologic brew they sell?
Are the scientific prophets merely profiteers?
What human soul has been enhanced by their inventions?
Strange desires cloud the lens through which this science peers:
The subject of the object now confuses its intentions;
Though men are left to struggle with the same old human fears
As once claimed Eve’s and Adam’s and the snake’s attentions.
No problem is beyond this objective human quest
Except the small subjective one in a man’s own breast;
Yet still all forms of superstition will suffice
To convince him of his distance from his own inner vice.
This same collective border Christianity constructed
Repels a man from seeking what his nature has to say.                                             Though now it’s on the other side of heaven life’s conducted
It has still the same objective to explain the world away                                             And only understand enough to serve the greed created
By the hallowed histories of pious people long since gone;
Driven still by inner forces Nature arbitrated
That science and religion both have turned their backs upon…
For this man to free his mind he must consider things
Quite the opposite the paradigm instilled in him;
For the intellect inflames a man with waxen wings
Soaring far beyond the nature being willed in him.
This will is not his own and not obsessed with other men
But strives below the known to seek a world within;
For the re-creation of an older mystery
And he is only driven there by hard necessity.
He views his thinking through the glass of self-importance;
The wonders he beholds are mystical possessions.
They bewitch and stupefy in mythical accordance
With the ancient laws established by a man’s obsessions.
A man must have a counterweight to these Platonic spheres
Like giant shadows crouched behind his small and modest fears.
He loves these fears too in his own clandestine way:
Such is the bargain struck by men who cannot pray.
He barters spirit-life for dark and fleeting pleasures
To flatter only Image’s obsessive measures.                                                                       But a man who cannot pray must worship nonetheless
The gods of his disorders whom his fantasies confess.
Such are the idols of a space-age mythology
Until recently the ones the heavens once concealed;
Now the orphans of a modern-day psychology
Yet not much less divine and not much more revealed.
For gods have ever issued from this psychic netherland
In any form interpreted to make men understand
That a greater spirit hides within the human mind
Than by science or the intellect will ever be defined.
But the prophets of today are focused on the brain
Able only to connect with what they touch and see.
No man yet has seen a god in the physical domain                                                         Except the demons lurking in the body’s chemistry.
The gods are demons now to this enlightened man
Whose only world consists of what his thought can understand.
The psychic history on which his life is based
By the shining light of Consciousness is now erased.
What was once a sacred sphere by which this man was graced
Has been reduced to symptoms and by chemicals replaced.
What once were ancient deities have now become disease —
Their double-nature no objective science can appease.
How could such a troubled culture now have come about
But that its egotism turned its thinking inside-out?
Denied the things its own spirit thundered long ago
For self-deceptive mysteries its science couldn’t know.
A bi-polar syndrome underlies the Western mind
For these neglected opposites are moving to the fore;
Just as they comprise the nature science has defined
So also do they form the nature scientists ignore.
They force a man inside himself though willed or not;
They urge him to consider things his modern mind forgot.
They sometimes even make him pray though on a thinking level
Not the least discernible from praying to the Devil…

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Jung’s Definitions of Rational and Irrational

Webster defines rational as: “having or exercising the ability to reason.” Reason is defined as: “An underlying fact or motive that provides logical sense for a premise or occurrence.” Logical is: “reasonable on the basis of previous events or statements.” Webster defines irrational as contrary to reason. Moving from definition to concept, Jung wrote in Psychological Types:  

“I conceive reason as an attitude whose principle it is to conform thought, feeling, and action to objective values. Objective values are established by the everyday experience of external facts on the one hand, and of inner, psychological facts on the other. Such experiences, however, could not represent objective “values” if they were valued as such by the subject, for that would already amount to an act of reason. The rational attitude which permits us to declare objective values as valid at all is not the work of the individual subject, but the product of human history.”

He went on to explain that reason is “…nothing other than the expression of man’s adaptability to average occurrences, which have gradually become deposited in firmly established complexes of ideas that constitute our objective values. Thus the laws of reason are the laws that designate and govern the average…

Jung defined irrational “not as denoting something contrary to reason, but something beyond reason, something therefore, not grounded on reason. Elementary facts come into this category; the fact, for example that the earth has a moon, that chlorine is an element, that water reaches its greatest density at four degrees centigrade, etc… The irrational is an existential factor which, though it may be pushed further and further out of sight by an increasingly elaborate rational explanation, finally makes the explanation so complicated that it passes our powers of comprehension…

“A completely rational explanation of an object that actually exists (not one that is merely posited) is a Utopian ideal. Only an object that is posited can be completely explained on rational grounds, since it does not contain anything beyond what has been posited by rational thinking. Empirical science, too, posits objects that are confined within rational bounds, because by deliberately excluding the accidental it does not consider the actual object as a whole, but only that part of it which has been singled out for rational observation.”

So far, the range of experience falling under the category of irrational and accidental includes all elementary facts of existence, known or not: given properties of the world and how we perceive them. It also includes all objects to the extent they’re unique and individual, as well as all chance events occurring in the relations between individual “objects.” It includes the unconscious psyche, which by definition is unknown and so unlimited. Aspects of these irrational factors have been “singled out for rational observation” as Jung noted; yet they remain, in fact and basis, irrational.

Whatever is “singled out for rational observation” is further restricted to what is accepted as an objective value, though that knowledge is partial by definition. Outside those boundaries, life is irrational.

Jung’s description of rational is the basis for most psychologies today. Since they have no conception of the irrational beyond speculation (and projection), the unconscious psyche can’t be described but in physical terms. Unable to address subjective conflicts (being irrational and accidental by definition) therapists often treat psychic problems physiologically — with drugs. The rational view has no approach to this paradox; the contradictions lie beyond the realm of medical opinion — in the unconscious psyche.

When the explanation is “so complicated that it passes our powers of comprehension” and ceases to be rational, Jung attributed the contradictions to the projections of conscious psychology. Though exceeding explanation, these “existential factors” are objective. The contradictions are subjective. They have nothing to do with accepted standards in the way we’re conditioned to think. The subjective factor dictates that they must be viewed in terms of relative values. Since these can’t be “objective”, they have validity only for the individual.

The failure of psychiatry and psychology to acknowledge materialistic projections has resulted in a paradox so pervasive that “mental illness” has actually increased since its inception. Part of it is due to diagnostic methods which can in no way be fitted to the medical model — an indication that psychology has overreached itself to an extent that, were it not for our fascination with ego and intellect, it would surely be seen through by a serious thinker…

And so it was — Jung’s model was comprehensive enough to conceive such projections. Rational thinkers have taken little notice. This is one of the crucial reasons why psychology has no means of evaluating religious ideas, though their profound effects have been proven to be most important for psychic health. One of the goals of religion is to move ego into a subordinate position, to recognize a thing greater than itself. This has been a fundamental tenet of objective values for over five thousand years…

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