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.

2 Comments

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2 Responses to The Conscious Perception of Opposites

  1. Peter Jeanmaire

    Dear Evan, Thank you for this excellent description of the present problem of human society.
    The origin of the ego-centered worldview is situated in the early agricultural societies and city states, in particular in Mesopotamia (see http://www.res-systemica.org/afscet/resSystemica/Paris05/denizhan.pdf). Hence, this worldview is older than the monotheistic religions (Christian, Islamic, Jewish).
    The sentence in the Old Testament: Subdue the earth! with its catastrophic consequences testifies of the ego-inflation already well under way at biblical times. It is up to us to reverse this amok running trend, if we want to avoid destroying ourselves.
    It is interesting that science is revealing its destructive character, but the ego-mind of the society prohibits it to act correpondingly. Therefore, Jungian psychology is called upon to help lift this barrier.

    • Hi Peter,
      Thanks for you response. The historical nature of ego and its compensations have been documented since the most primitive man identified with with his own awareness and assumed himself to be a god. Though for what purposes beyond his own desires, his rude perception was unable to distinguish. That’s understandable in an animal with limited consciousness, but you’re right: the excuse is not only no longer tenable but, as you say, catastrophic.

      It is interesting that science is revealing its destructive character, but the ego-mind of society prohibits it to act correspondingly. Therefore, Jungian psychology is called upon to help lift this barrier.” — it certainly could to great advantage if only we paid attention to ourselves and our unconscious motives. Scientifically speaking, the knowledge is there. It’s only up to us to realize that its purposes exceed our awareness today no less than in biblical times.

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