Monday, January 15, 2018
What Happened to the Unconscious?
The first half of the 20th century brought into the light of Western consciousness the great discovery of the unconscious. The great initial pioneer Sigmund Freud, followed by the even greater explorer and surveyor Carl G. Jung, showed the world the actual workings of the unconscious in our conscious lives, from the most individually mundane effects, such as our tics and foibles, to the most collective inundations of our collective consciousness in war and mass phenomenon such as fascism, communism, and commercialism.
Then after the most compelling and complete demonstration of the overcoming of collective rationality by the irrationality of the collective unconscious from WWI to the culmination that was World War II, Western collective consciousness reacted by closing down and shutting away the very acknowledgement of the unconscious. Western psychology turned to rationalism in hope of explaining the irrational, and the unconscious was driven out of psychology, with “psychology” being redefined without the unconscious element as “behaviorism,” “cognitive studies,” ”neuro-psychology” “evolutionary psychology,” etc. This is an utter and complete failure, because the totality of the psyche includes both the conscious and the unconscious, and any attempt to rationally explain the irrational aspects of the unconscious by ignoring the unconscious is set up for failure.
The rationalist delusion of the previous 70 years has forced the psychology of the unconscious underground. And as Jung noted over and over again, when an important part of our psychic reality is submerged, it always and inevitably comes back to overwhelm us in ways we find problematic. The denied elements of our personal unconscious, the complexes, reappear as disturbances in our body or mental functions, as somatic symptoms or psychic disturbances such as hauntings or obsessions. The denied elements of our collective unconscious, the archetypes, reappear in stark polarized contrasts as “demons,” “daimons,” or “divinities,” as social contagions resulting in genocide, occupation, and apartheid, as social mass movements for weal or woe seeming to appear overnight, etc.
No matter how much people may try, there is no exclusively rational explanation for the election of Donald Trump as president, because it is an expression of the repressed unconscious factors that created a “faith” mentality in the people who voted for him. The rationality of consciousness (organized as it is around the ego complex) can never deal with faith, because the best that rationality can offer can never touch the unconscious basis of faith. Rationally can only call “faith” a form of nonsense, i.e. irrational, and then believe it has taken care of the matter.
In analyzing the problem of the rationalist critique of faith without reference to the unconscious, Jung wrote in “A Psychological Approach to the Trinity”: “Naturally, it never occurs to these critics that their way of approach is incommensurable with their object. They think they have to do with rational facts, whereas it entirely escapes then that it is and always has been primarily a question of irrational psychic phenomena.” (p. 153 of Coll. Works of C. G. Jung, Vol. 11.) It is the denial of a basic recognition of the collective psychic phenomena at work in the Trump election that befuddles all attempts by the political and social pundits to explain it.
We have seen over and over again interviews with “Trump followers” who deny the basis facts of Trump and instead project onto Trump a faithful expectation that he will eventually fulfill their desires for a better government. This is an act of faith of the deepest feelings. The factual historical personality is obscured behind the projections of the unconscious looking for an appropriate screen upon which to projects its symbols. When faith is at work for a “higher cause,” it is invariably the archetype of the totality of the person, i.e., the individual’s wholeness, attempting to find its way into consciousness. The psychic phenomena of a person who feels cut off, separated, and estranged from both themselves and their society stimulates their collective unconscious to respond by insinuating the archetype of their self-realization of their fundamental totality into their personal consciousness. This is experienced directly and irrationally, and even the person’s own rationalizations used to explain it come after the fact.
The recognition of the unconscious opens a door to the confusing and terrifying emotions, imaginings, and thoughts of our inner life that most people are more than happy to close immediately. The anti-Trump voter as well as the Trump voter are equally eager to pretend there are no psychic phenomena at play here, and it is all just a matter of rational analysis and discussion to determine the facts. But the abrupt and widespread appearance of the social meme of “fake news” in conjunction with the “Trump-era” shows the archetypal influence behind Trump’s meteoric rise in politics. The label “fake news” is telling us to our faces that the collective social forces we are dealing with are irrational psychic forces working on the level of symbols not facts. Itr is not a question of which media outlet is or is not dealing in “fake news,” because at bottom, they all are in their own ways. The New York Times has its particular way of presenting “fake news” just like FOX News has its own way of presenting “fake news.” The common denominator of all fake news is its failure to address its contextual prejudices supporting its perspective, and this is due to the failure to acknowledge the unconscious psychic phenomena at work in the presentation of the news.
The completeness which the archetype of our own wholeness seeks is not something that can tamed or determined by our conscious ego. Our conscious ego seeks our wholeness from within the bifurcated environment of consciousness, and therefore can only conceive of wholeness and totality as “perfection.” But real wholeness and totality must necessarily include our nocturnal side, the very aspects of ourselves that we have shunned or exiled. Thus when we consciously open ourselves to a search for our wholeness, we are faced with the problem of suffering and “evil” in the world and in ourselves as intimately expressed by our own shadow side. People who long for such wholeness, but have no personal guide who has experienced the journey, are confused by the necessity to confront the world of suffering directly and personally as the gateway to inner unity. They think they can find the perfection of wholeness without facing suffering. In his extensive monograph “Aion: Researches Into the Phenomenology of the Self,” Jung notes:
“To strive after teleiosis in the sense of perfection is not only legitimate but is inborn in man as a peculiarity which provides civilization with one of its strongest roots. This striving is so powerful, even, that it can turn into a passion that draws everything into its service. Natural as it is to seek perfection in one way or another, the archetype fulfills its own completeness, and this is a τελείωσις (teleiosis) of quite another kind. Where the archetype predominates, completeness is forced upon us against all our conscious strivings, in accord with the archaic nature of the archetype. The individual may strive after perfection (“Be you therefore perfect— τελειόι--as also your heavenly father is perfect.”) but must suffer from the opposite of his intentions for the sake of his completeness.”(p. 69 Coll. Works of C. G. Jung, Vol. 9, Part II.)
When we seek the wholeness of ourselves, we are usually drawn by affinity to a living archetypal symbol of that wholeness such as the Buddha or the Christ. If we follow the Buddha we must begin the journey with the First Noble Truth of Suffering, and if we follow the Christ we must begin with identification with the Passion (i.e., suffering) and crucifixion of the Christ. The Taoist archetypal symbol of wholeness, the Taiji is not anthropomorphic, but its containment of the opposites of yin and yang, dark and light, within the circle of completeness confronts the follower directly with the necessity of dealing with their own dark side if wholeness is to be realized. Ultimately there is no way to wholeness except through the confrontation and integration of suffering and the shadow side of ourselves. We can’t become complete by running away from suffering.
It is the archetypal unconscious impetus to seek completeness being perverted by the conscious prejudice against suffering that leads to the illusion we can become perfect by getting rid of the “bad things of life.” This psychic phenomenon is exactly expressed in the Trump voters’ resonance with the symbol of “draining the swamp” projected onto government. Those who would be personally perfect and then project this desire onto the social screen desire a perfect government. Their own sense of imperfection, as a being personally filled with swamp creatures within their own inner world, is projected outward onto the government as a swamp needing to be drained. The psychic dimension of this projection is evidenced by the denial of the Trump voters who literally can not see that Trump has brought more “swamp creatures” into his government than any previous president. This self-blinding in consciousness is a primary symptom of the archetype’s unconscious influence.
Trump is the manifested expression of our denial of the unconscious. The so-called anti-Trump resistance is also an expression of our denial of the unconscious as shown by its psychic contagion of a new Mc Carthyite “red scare” anti-Russian hysteria. Because the anti-Trump forces can not acknowledge either the conscious or unconscious psychic forces behind Trump’s popularity, they project their dissociated psychic contents, with the sense of “evil,” onto an available target like “Russia,” so that they no longer care for the facts to be proven before they are certain of their conclusions. Their certainty before the determination of any evidence and their eager grasping at any straw or suggestion of “collusion” without a verification demonstrate conclusively the unconscious influences.
So what happened to the unconscious? It seems that humankind’s struggle with its own dark side in WWII was so traumatic that our collective consciousness revolted against itself and drove out the messenger that offered the only hope of understanding what had happened because merely trying to understand was too terrible. Using the terminology of rationalism, the study of the unconscious was tarred and feathered as “mystical” or, to use a more technical term, “woo woo.” . This kind of over-rationalization and sloganeering literalization by the perspective of materialism shows the unconscious influence in the repression itself. Materialism became the new religion of science and dogmatically repressed the scientific study of psychic phenomenon from the psychological perspective. Only the materialist perspective was officially allowed in the post-war study of the psyche within the major educational institutions funded by commercial and military interests.
Psychology deals with the facts of mental contents. The fact that the idea or symbol exists as a psychic phenomenon is the truth that psychology studies. Thus the fact of the idea or symbol of a God (or the Buddhist Dharmakaya of Taoist Taiji) as the symbol of our own desire for wholeness, and the incarnation or birth of that symbol as a person who manifests that wholeness in human form (e.g., Christ, Buddha, or Immortal), is the rightful object of the study of psychology, and this is not a question of neurons firing or the literal historical objectification of the symbol in any particular individual. It is not the individual but the archetypal symbol projected onto the individual that allows the historical person to be honored or worshipped far beyond the historical death of the individual, precisely because the archetypal aspect is collective not individual..
As Jung said, “It is certainly a good thing to preach reason and commons sense, but what if you have a lunatic asylum for an audience or a crowd in a collective frenzy? There is not much difference between them because the madman and the mob are both moved by impersonal overwhelming forces.” (p. 15 of Coll. Works of C. G. Jung, Vol. 11.) The impersonal overwhelming forces of the collective unconscious that brought Trump to the presidency must be studied and understood or we make a fatal mistake in regard to the human psyche as well as to our society and culture. .