Carl Gustav Jung

The development of psychoanalysis and orientation of the self in the context of twentieth century western societies

by Mark Norton

Today, as the end of the second millennium draws near, we are again living in an age filled with apocalyptic images of universal destruction . . . It needs only an imperceptible disturbance of equilibrium in a few of our rulers' heads to plunge the world into blood, fire, and radioactivity.



In this essay I shall present an examination of western socio-cultural developments in the 20th century, in order to see what effect they had on psychoanalytical thought, and how Jung's theories may have been influenced by the particularities of the times. The intensification of centralised forms of government and increasing homogeneity of ideology led to mass movements that swept individuals up into the collective consciousness, with disastrous consequences. Jung was convinced of the need for a re-orientation of the individual back into the self, for only there, he felt, would the individual gain access to authentic life symbols and a fundamental human psychic reality, free from vested interests and self-serving institutions' influences. The apparently autonomous nature of dreams, he felt, could be a crucial window into the dialogue between the conscious and the unconscious, bringing the opportunity for psychic wholeness to mankind, when the alternatives are universal neurosis and disintegration of the self.

The roots of 20th century psychoanalysis

The times in which psychoanalysis was born as we are most familiar with it, through the works of Freud and Jung, were axial for the human race, and indeed still are. We were well into the post-industrial modern era. Cities were becoming larger and larger. Scientific rationalism, including the secularising force of Darwinism, was objectifying our conception of the universe and its contents, and this necessarily included the concept of the individual.

Barry Richards, in Crisis of the Self (1989) talks of Freud's working environment, and suggests that contrary to popular belief, Freud's patients weren't exclusively from a withdrawn society of middle-class neurotic women, living under a closed patriarchal system. He believes that anti-Freudian psychologists created this myth to discredit his work.

Vienna was becoming a sophisticated urban environment, a centre of finance, culture, and consumption, during the time of Freud. According to Barry Richards: "Psychoanalysis could only emerge where there were established high degrees of professional specialisation and vanguardism, and there was a potential market for psychoanalytic therapy." [1] The environment of a metropolitan and diversifying city like Vienna was the only place where psychoanalysis could flourish.

The intensification of experience that these urban conglomerates created brought to the individual a mixture of anxieties. The problem of city life was its intense but fragmentary nature. George Simmel, in The Metropolis and Mental Life wrote of the phenomenon of city life, and described its "intensity of stimulation", its "crowding of impressions" and its "anonymity and matter-of-fact soullessness." [2] He suggests that "the number and variety of human contacts are such that no individual can respond to them all and remain inwardly coherent", and that the only response available to the inhabitants of a large metropolis is to become unresponsive or to disintegrate psychically. The overall impression is of a massive arena of activity, its purpose unknown to the subject, with no integrity of meaning; the whole mele is alienated from the sum of its parts.

Freud saw the imagery of dreams as having similar features to waking life. The bizarre image of the dream had its counterpart in the anomalous juxtapositions that everyday life threw up - faces and images evoking unexplainable fears and desires, which the conscious mind had no time to deal with. Freud would then attempt to fuse the fragments into a recognisable unit of meaning, like a "broken vase expertly made whole." [3]

Cultural and socio-political changes

The sociologist George Simmel, quoted above, felt that the deep changes occurring in man's psychic structure were a consequence of the socio-economic development of capitalism. The gradual loosening of the hold which traditional frameworks of authority had on the individual - the family and religion, for example - Richards felt led to confusion and crisis in ego formation and orientation: "The miscellaneous and atomized nature of the external world is thus impressed on a psychic apparatus itself beset by internal disintegrative pressures." [4]

Richards feels that the problem has got worse since it became more widely recognised in the early 1900s. The metropolitan system and its system of consumer capitalism affects more and more people; the process of consumption is becoming the dominant activity, even its ideal. It creates its own ideological framework; social membership and identification is gauged by the level of consumer participation. Commodification is the operative word here - 'treating people and things only in terms of their market value' - the degree of integration into this ritual of consumption being indicative of a person's social worth and his sense of social and individual responsibility.

The Frankfurt School of Social Analysis explored as one of its major themes the decline of the individual, and the eroding process which operates in societies upon the autonomy of the individual. This centred around the idea that the individual was becoming irrevocably a part of the consumer society, and his social and cultural habits were determined by the mechanics of capitalism. Autonomy and individual agency gives way to a seduced and de-centred consumer; they are manipulated into becoming passive consumers of the culture industry. Thomas Krogh points out in his essay on the Frankfurt School that T.W. Adorno's "main tenet was that the individual was dead, and that traditional psychology was at an end." People were now victims of what they called the Freudian repetition compulsion. Krogh writes that:

In this industry not only the products but the producers and the consumers are produced and reproduced. This means that the distinction between work and leisure disappears, leisure and recreation are forms of forced compulsion based on the compulsion to repeat [5]

It is felt by many that consumer capitalism has created a moral crisis of the self. Ties to consumerism are the comforts and the consoling and supportive role that goods play, and it engenders individual enjoyment rather than advancement. It is not hard to imagine the reactions of a fully socialised consumer organism when the source of such comforts is under threat.

The impact of war

Carl Jung was also extremely perturbed by the developments he saw in the 20th century, and he was to write quite extensively on the dangers present to the survival of the individual, his psychic condition, and indeed his actual survival:

Today, as the end of the second millennium draws near, we are again living in an age filled with apocalyptic images of universal destruction. [6]

Jung experienced a series of visions in the autumn of 1913. A feeling of oppression had been troubling him for a while, and his experience demonstrates the possible effects of future angst which can occur in an individual, especially when faced with the instability seemingly endemic to 20th century life. He writes about these experiences in his autobiography:

In October, while I was alone on a journey, I was suddenly seized by an overpowering vision: I saw a monstrous flood covering all the northern and low lying lands between the north sea and the Alps. When it came up to Switzerland I saw that the mountains grew higher and higher to protect our country. I realised that a frightful catastrophe was in progress. I saw the mighty yellow waves, the floating rubble of civilisation, and the drowned bodies of uncounted thousands. Then the whole sea turned to blood . . . two weeks passed; then the vision recurred . . . even more vividly than before, and the blood was more emphasised. An inner voice spoke. "Look at it well; it is wholly real and it will be so. You cannot doubt it." Soon afterwards [June 1914] I had a thrice repeated dream that in the middle of summer an Arctic cold wave descended and turned the land to ice . . . the entire region totally deserted by human beings. All living things were killed by frost. [7]

One month later, on August 1st of that year, World War I broke out, and Jung's prescience was a shock even to himself. It led to a deep exploration of his own psyche, in an effort to understand the nature of his increasingly intense psychic turbulence. It also galvanised in him a sense of the urgency and importance of his life's work; he felt that man was at a crisis point, and a greater understanding of his nature was crucial if he were to survive.

Jung on the 20th century

Jung often appeared deeply pessimistic about the future of mankind. In 1957 he published a series of articles entitled 'Man and his Future'. His experiences during his lifetime and the course of world developments, of which he was an astute and perceptive observer, certainly contributed to his feeling of concern at the undeveloped psychic condition of a significant proportion of mankind. He echoed many of the sentiments of the Frankfurt School - he also felt that the concept of the individual was diminished in the face of large-scale sociological changes, as this quote illustrates:

The goal and meaning of individual life (which is the only real life) no longer lie in individual development but in the policy of the state, which is thrust upon the individual from outside and consists in the execution of an abstract idea which ultimately tends to attract all life to itself. The individual is increasingly deprived of the decision as to how he should live his own life, and instead is ruled, fed, clothed, and educated as a social unit, accommodated in the appropriate housing unit, and amused in accordance with the standards that give pleasure and satisfaction to the masses. The rulers, in their turn, are just as much social units as the ruled [8]

The rise in mass movements, dangerous in their homogeneity and their fundamental intolerance of everything but their own ideology, he sees as mainly caused by

scientific rationalism, which robs the individual of his foundation and his dignity. As a social unit he has lost his individuality and become a mere abstract in the bureau of statistics. [9]

From this we see that for Jung, the individual has become nothing more than a carrier for the corporate function - the state - when in fact state and society are abstract concepts, and the individual is the carrier of actual life.

Jung felt that the church was no real help in initiating a process of individuation. They tend to use the process of mass action to 'heal' or to foster spiritual growth. This can be seen in present-day mainstream religious organisations, and also more graphically among the charismatic evangelical figures who encourage impromptu enlightenment among their hapless devotees, through to the more sinister apocalyptic leaders whose psychic control over their disciples is almost total, often resulting in the death/suicide of their members in a collective neurosis, usually by creating an Armageddon-fuelled persecution complex. Jung says of this desire to herd people together in this psychically dangerous manner:

the very churches whose care is the salvation of the individual soul . . . do not appear to have heard of the elementary axiom of mass psychology that the individual becomes morally and spiritually inferior in the mass [10]

The act of cheapening and reducing such a critical process of the psychic centring of the individual to the level of partaking in a moribund repetition of cheap slogans and plodding verse, if it in fact works, results in an even weaker individual, who needs even more of the same when the intoxication eventually wears off. Relying on external sources for psychic comfort, using them as balms and ointments, results in the individual expecting his strength and individuality to come from the outside, whereas Jung says

this environment cannot give him as a gift something which he can only win for himself with effort and suffering. [11]

He does say, however, that he doesn't feel that Christianity or other religions are devoid of any worth or value whatsoever. On the contrary, it is people's interpretations of it that have become repetitive and empty of any vitality, and in the contemporary world this needs to be developed if they are to have any real meaning for the individual.

In fact, for Jung, the religious impulse is something that is still very much a part of man's psychic urge. Despite rationalism and the state machinery being seen as the source of potential salvation of human endeavour, man's religious feelings still exist in one form or another, but the religious function has lost its object of fixation. However, the state and its leaders often become deified in its place. As Jung says:

You can take away a man's gods, but only to give him others in return. [12]

In the shadow

This artificial situation, the crude subversion of the religious instinct, whether instituted by force or persuasion, results in the neuroticization of mankind. Jung uses the analogy of the 'Iron Curtain' to illustrate the split in modern man. His shadow's projections confirm his opponents' or neighbours' status as the source of human ills, replacing the Devil as the abstraction of this archetype. This can be seen in the discourse of East/West relations (or of other oppositional ideologies e.g. Middle Eastern states versus Western/American imperialism.) They often use the discourse of biblical texts and use quasi-religious language e.g. Ronald Reagan's use of the term 'evil empire' to describe the former Soviet Union, calling colonel Gadaafi the 'Anti-Christ', and the western world being personified as 'Satan' by other middle-eastern powers. Untrammelled projection of the shadow has resulted in catastrophic events in recent world history. When states become this dominating, e.g. Revolutionary Communism and Nazism, the psychological split created by projecting the shadow neuroticizes the individual, breaking up the link between conscious and unconscious.

The shadow is an instinctual function of the unconscious, what Jung calls an 'archetype', which acts as a counterbalance to the conscious mind. Jung says "we do not think of distrusting our motives or of asking ourselves how the inner man feels about the things we do on the outside." [13] This is psychically unhygienic, and symptomatic of man's exocentric exclusivity in the focus of his libido.

Modern man often sees the psyche as unimportant when faced with the challenges of the unconscious mind, with its rationalistic impulse and its inexorable drive towards power over nature, increasing scientific skills and knowledge. Jung feels this is a dangerous standpoint to take, as he feels that the most threatening factor for man's future survival comes not from natural disasters, biblical plagues, or any attack of external forces, but from mans psyche:

It needs only an imperceptible disturbance of equilibrium in a few of our rulers' heads to plunge the world into blood, fire, and radioactivity. [14]

Jung constantly berates modern man for not recognising the shadow which is part of his unconscious psyche. Moral complacency and irresponsibility can manifest itself in terrible ways. For Jung, each individual cell in the social organism is complicit in whatever conflicts may occur:

He knows that as an individual he is more or less meaningless and feels himself the victim of uncontrollable forces, but, on the other hand, he harbours within himself a dangerous shadow and adversary who is involved as a political helper in the dark machinations of the political monster. [15]

Individual agency

The opposite of this phenomenon is possible, if mankind can continue with the struggle for spiritual transformation without disaster befalling him. In contrast to the way in which many mass movements plunge their adherents into a revolutionary but psychotic change of consciousness, genuine spiritual transformation, for Jung, will take hundreds of years, and can't be pushed through in one generation. For those people who have changed, who have committed themselves to a process of individuation, the opportunity to influence others exists, but operating on a benign level:

I do not mean by persuading or preaching - I am thinking, rather, of the well known fact that anyone who has insight into his own actions, and thus found access to the unconscious, involuntarily exercises an influence on his environment . . . it is an unintentional influence on the unconscious of others . . . and its effect lasts only so long as it is not disturbed by conscious intention. [16]

Despite all the bell-tolling and the doomwatch nature of his discourse, Jung does show signs of optimism for the success of man's striving for self-knowledge and psychic wholeness. He points to the existence of an unconscious zeitgeist. This he saw in the changes taking place in the field of modern art, in its deconstruction of previously held notions of what was meaningful - in form and content - away from objectification of truth and beauty and into an abstract and subjective chaos. He felt that his time revealed a shift in consciousness, reflected in modern art, into a millennial shift into primordial chaos:

The development of modern art with its seemingly nihilistic trend towards disintegration must be understood as the symbol of a mood of universal destruction and renewal that has set its mark on our age. This mood makes itself felt everywhere, politically, socially, and philosophically. We are living in what the Greeks called 'the right moment - for a metamorphosis of the Gods', of the fundamental principles and symbols . . . This peculiarity of our time . . . is the expression of the unconscious man who is changing. [17]

For Jung, this change is exemplified by the irrevocable shift towards the individual as the foundation from which to bring purpose and meaning back into existence. Ira Progoff describes this process quite succinctly:

If a culture fails to maintain psychologically effective symbols, its individuals withdraw from social areas of life and turn into themselves in search of new meanings . . . The basic psychic processes underlying such a social development may be referred to as a 'neurosis', but not in the sense of a diagnosis; it is merely a description of its kind of libido movement, that is, of regression away from outer life and into the depths of the psyche. [18]

It can indeed be experienced as a neurosis, a break up of the persona, but this is a necessary step in order to reach new levels of meaning:

When it does come, it results in a deep regression of the libido, since the individual must find a new set of symbols to give meaning to his life. The libido is forced to move down to deeper layers of the psyche because only there can it contact symbols with sufficient strength and wide enough significance to make possible a new point of view. [19]

Jung's feelings are that the individuation process, once embarked upon, can be an alienating process; one is no longer following the laws of a group identity. But in a society whose link between the conscious and the unconscious is being eroded, and its neurotic manifestations spiralling towards endless repetition of a psychic crisis, Jung saw this as his last refuge:

The only remedy for our civilisation's loss of soul was a massive reinvestment in the inner life of the individual, so as to re-establish a personal connection with 'the mythic world in which we were once at home by birth.' Deprived of the symbolism of myth and religion, people were cut off from meaning, and society was doomed to die. [20]

Dreams appear to have an autonomous nature: "We know that we do not ourselves make a dream or an inspiration, but it somehow arises of its own accord." [21] We do, however, have a choice of whether to ignore or subjugate the conflict that an encounter with the unconscious can bring, or we can "step beyond the limits" where the individual "truly enters the 'untrodden, untreadable regions' where there are no charted ways and no shelter spreads its protective roof over his head." [22]

The constant buffeting of external; authorities, moral and judgmental, in the life of the individual, recedes as the individual acquires greater self-knowledge. His ethical standpoint necessarily becomes more subjective and creative; in the light of Jung's apprehension at accepting the moral codes of established authorities, and the dubious reasons for blindly accepting them, the self-knowledge that is endemic to the individuation process allows no room for illusion. He must know his own nature, his weaknesses and learn to "live without self-deception or illusion." [23]

Dreams play a crucial part in this process. Jung details in his book Dreams, and in other publications, the dreams of some of his patients. Although these dreams taken individually appear to be merely episodic, Jung says:

With deeper insight and experience, these apparently separate acts of compensation arrange themselves into a kind of plan. They seem to hang together and in the deepest sense to be subordinated to a common goal, so that a long dream series no longer appears as a senseless string of incoherent and isolated happenings, but resembles the successive steps in a planned and orderly process of development. I have called this unconscious process spontaneously expressing itself in the symbolism of a long dream series the individuation process. [24]

1 RICHARDS, B. Crises of the Self (Free Association, 1989) p.44
2 IBID, p.44
3 IBID, p.45
4 IBID, p.46
5 KROGH, T. Cultural Analysis - the Frankfurt School p.220 - from RNNING,H. & LUNDBY, K. Media and Communication (Norwegian University, 1991)
6 JUNG, C.G. Collected Works, Volume 10 (Routledge, 1962) p. 247
7 JUNG, C.G. Memories, Dreams, Reflections (Flamingo, 1961) p.199
8 JUNG, C.G. Collected Works, Volume 10 (Routledge,1962) p.247
9 STORR, A. Selected Writings (Fontana, 1986) p.356
10 JUNG, C.G. Collected Works, Volume 10 (Routledge, 1962) p.275
11 IBID, p.277
12 IBID, p.280
13 IBID, p.290
14 IBID, p.291
15 IBID, p.299
16 STORR, A. Selected Writings (Fontana, 1986) p.401
17 IBID, p.400
18 PROGOFF, I. Jung's Psychology and its Social Meaning (Julian Press, 1953) from PAPADOPOULOS, R.K. Carl Gustav Jung, Critical Assessments (Routledge, 1992) p.41
19 IBID, p.40
20 STEVENS, A. Jung (Oxford, 1994) p.126
21 JUNG, C.G. Memories, Dreams, Reflections (Flamingo, 1961) p.368
22 IBID, p.377
23 IBID, p.362
24 JUNG, C.G. Collected Works, Volume 10 (Routledge, 1964) para 550

© May 1995, Mark Norton
From The Dream Factory, written at Roskilde University, Denmark, Spring 1995
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