Friday, January 25, 2013

Violence in America: Jung & What's Really Real

 Abu Ghraib haunts my woods, lives in my dreams
CC by Jean Stimmell

Our current national discussion on gun violence in the U.S. prompted me to reread an essay[1] by Carl Jung written at the end of World War II, predicting that our modern age of science and rationality would spawn a cascading increase in societal violence – not a benevolent new order of peace and sanity as envisioned by leading social scientists.

Rather than our new Age of Reason eliminating “the fantastic, mythological world of the Middle Ages,” Jung argues that it simply switched place from outside in Nature to inside our psyches. Rather than nature spirits like fairies, witches, devas, demons and the rest “that terrify and tease mankind: man himself has taken over the role without knowing it and does the devilish work of destruction with far more effective tools than the spirits did.”

Or said another way: “We have lost our superstitious fear of evil spirits and things that go bump in the night, but instead, are seized with terror [by] people who, possessed by demons, perpetrate the frightful deed of darkness.”  The New Town school massacre of twenty, first-grade children is but the latest example.

Writing in 1945 in the aftermath of World War II and Hitler’s reign, Jung says such atrocities are characteristic of the new dark age we find ourselves living in. He calls such violence “psychic epidemics” and notes that it is only when we have completely internalized Nature’s demons that, “the age of total blood baths, total demonization, and total dehumanization could begin:”  

“Even the torture chamber – that staggering achievement of modern times! – has been reintroduced into Europe…Finally, the invention of human slaughter houses –  compared with which the Roman circuses of 2,000 years ago were but a piffling prelude – is a scarcely surpassable achievement of the neo-German spirit.”

Looking at the scope and intensity of increasing psychic epidemics since WW II can only serve to confirm Jung’s prediction. By way of example, let’s look at the racketing up of violence starting with the horrific 911 terrorist attack on the Twin Towers in New York, rapidly followed by our equally horrific response of waging two misbegotten wars resulting in tens of thousands of innocent civilians dead. Extraordinary rendition. Secret torture centers set up around the world including Abu Ghraib. And continuing assassinations around the world, even of Americans, by our drone attacks.

Many intellectuals, such as Henry A. Giroux[2], are baffled by this explosion of violence that  “appears to lack any rational organization.” What is startling, he adds, “is that the logic of war and violence have become addictive, a socially constructed need that we simply cannot get away from.”

Jung position, of course, is the opposite: that this violence is caused precisely because our modern age suffers from too much rational organization, causing us to suppress our evolutionary psychological history still imprinted within us, stretching all the way back to our animal past. And even more grievous, we have lost respect and understanding for the most mysterious and miraculous part of our collective unconscious: Nature Herself.

Despite certain postmodernist claims, we are not solely a “socially constructed self” fashioned from a blank slate: As Charlene Spretnak [3] says, some things are “really real:” the innate wisdom of our bodies, our sense of place, and Nature Herself. We can only deny the “really real” at our own peril.

[1] Jung’s essay, Marginalia on Contemporary Events, reprinted in C.G. Jung on Nature, Technology & Modern Life, by Meredith Sabini pp. 130-132.
[3] The Resurgence of the Real: Body, Nature, and Place in the Hypermodern World by Charlene Spretnak
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