The Law of Opposites

“Today, our… natures are reflected in division, diversion, disorientation, suggestibility, a longing to adhere to a cause or “ism” or to be contained within the security of a social, political, or religious system which no longer serves the aims of psychic development. Traditional symbols and their interpretations are quickly losing relevance, and the older orientation becomes increasingly ineffective as a check against our animal natures. The “beast within” must be re-interpreted to stimulate a new image which would more adequately express the changing relations with the unconscious. Without its symbols to attract consciousness to goals beyond its own desires, the deeper designs of instinct are projected onto external circumstances and often lead to the violent acting out of what is ultimately a psychological/spiritual conflict.” — A Mid-Life Perpsective: Conversations With The Unconscious.

The world today is a very dangerous place. All perceive themselves as reasonable in the bubbles of their personal lives; yet even those who may legitimately lay claim to such a lofty notion will be forced to admit an all-consuming participation in the destruction of the planet. Collectively, we’re the greatest threat to our own survival, and it would seem important to understand why we’re doing what we’re doing. Without those insights, we can’t stop. To that end, I return to the intuitive ideas in Philip Wylie’s, Essay on Morals, published in 1947:

… Jung’s theory of the law which governs instinctual activity… he calls the “law of opposites” — taking the phrase from Oriental philosophy, which has assumed for thousands of years that man obeys compulsions of Nature rather than the immediate dictates of his reason and will.

“The “law of opposites” is nothing more (or less!) than the hypothesis that compensation, complement, and conservation operate subjectively just as they do in the objective world. For every instinct put to conscious use by man — or society — there exists a potential force, equal, opposed, and unconscious, unless the individual (or the group) recognizes the dual nature of instinct.

Our antagonism to Nature is an historical given — it’s a force greater than we can conceive; to protect ourselves from its destructive effects requires tremendous effort. But, our fears and inferiorities in the face of it have produced unconscious ego-reactions that have spiraled out of control. Those compensations form the split that defines the opposition of our inner natures. Wylie:

In physics, this compares with the simple law of action and reaction and resembles the thermodynamic concepts… in psychology, this is a much subtler postulate to catch on to — and far more difficult for Occidental man because he has been brought up to imagine no such law could possibly exist. He believes he is reasonable and when his behavior is otherwise, shrugs it off either unexplained or labeled “irrational.”

 “We are barely beginning to perceive “opposites” empirically… But nowadays we do know (for example) that the consuming love of a mother may become a hateful instrument for the ruin of her beloved. We have found out that intense pacifism at home abets scornful militarism abroad. We may soon find out… that a nervous militarism at home destroys the liberty it was designed to protect… These are examples of compensations along several levels of instinct.

But that for every prompting we obey, the risk of opposite result is set up, few Western men are willing to consider in relation to themselves. It shakes every pretension… To a pragmatic, positvistic, materialistic “civilization” it proposes — for instance — that orientation toward objects has put the whole subjective nature of society in jeopardy. We may go mad — or be mad.

But, a subjective mind can’t measure its own “madness” objectively. That “we are barely beginning to perceive “opposites” empirically” is in itself an insight. That consciousness is in conflict with itself and its own nature (and always has been in some projected form) is psychologically indisputable today in the light of Jung’s discoveries.

Contemporary man does perceive to some degree that what he calls “ethics” or… “morality,” or, perhaps, his “social science,” must now “catch up with material power and know-how.” But he hardly conceives that his current subjective chaos is the inevitable consequence of a psychological law of compensation — that he is paying in world-wide hostility, rage, frustration and fear for his long, conscious concentration on objects, at vast cost to any realistic awareness of, dedication to, or even development of, his subjective life.

The only way a subjective mind may glimpse it’s own objective nature is by the consequences of its actions. If we can’t admit them and rationalize them away, we make victims not only of ourselves but of all life — a sad testament to Nature’s experiment of a conscious animal.

(For a real wake-up call, visit Peter Jeanmaire’s website. Click on Englisch and read the two pdf articles. If you prefer to ignore our predicament, don’t click here.)

2 Comments

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2 Responses to The Law of Opposites

  1. Dear Evan, First, thank you for mentioning my website. The consequence is that Google detected it and that people can find it from now on. Wake-up call: what a good designation of what humanity needs urgently. In the Parzifal of Bayreuth this year everybody is asleep on scene when the curtain opens. The sleepers are ego-dormant creatures still far from discovering the Grail. Regarding the opposites: Since Man has no opposite, i.e. no predator, nature has made him his own predator by developing rationality and spirituality as opposites in his mind. The problem with Jung’s psychology is that it cannot be internalized as a theory, but must be experienced internally. Is it possible to get your mail address for more detailed discussions?

    • Peter,
      You’re welcome. Thank you for your comment. The Austrian ethologist, Konrad Lorenz, suggested that since man has no natural weapons other than his mind, that any natural inhibitor of excessive aggression would likewise be of a psychological or spiritual nature. Philip Wylie referred to it as ‘conscience’, and Joseph Campbell outlined the role ritual plays as an inhibition against destructive urges. Wylie also suggested that as a territorial beast as well as a conscious one, man is driven to defend his ideological territory as fiercely as he once defended physical territory. Add a dissociated ego and the projections beneath our modern rationality, and we can compare our psychic history with where it’s leading us. That was Jung’s model and, as you say, we need a new psychological paradigm to evaluate what we’re creating for ourselves and our children.
      Thanks again — I’ll send you my email.

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