Today is the 50th anniversary of Jung’s death. The second part of my Guardian Cif blogs has just gone up. As has a piece for the BBC magazine. A taster of both:
(From the Cif piece): It’s worth noting that again Jung anticipates post-Freudian theories, this time about the nature of the unconscious. In his recent book, The Social Animal, David Brooks observes that 21st century sciences are showing how the unconscious parts of the mind “are not dark caverns of repressed sexual urges.” Jung wrote precisely that 100 years ago, and neuroscientists, psychologists and economists of today might find parts of Jung a highly suggestive read.
(From the BBC piece): He lived in a period “filled with apocalyptic images of universal destruction”, as he observed – thinking of the Cold War and nuclear bomb. These particular horrors have receded. But it is striking how quickly they have been replaced by new threats. The most obvious is the devastation that is anticipated as a result of climate change. Or you could point to terrorism. And it does not stop there.
We seem to have a fascination with ruination that extends beyond the possible or probable to the purely imagined. Look at how the end of the world provides an irresistible storyline in movies. Or recall how the Rapture predictions of Harold Camping spread like wildfire across the internet last month.
There are many factors that contribute to these trends. Jung was gripped by those that are psychological and reasoned that such concerns – real or imagined – arise in large part when we become disconnected from our spiritual side.
He argued that while modern science has yielded unsurpassed knowledge about the human species, it has led, paradoxically, to a narrower, machine-like conception of what it means to be a human individual. This presumably explains why complementary therapies are flourishing in the 21st Century. They try to address the whole person, not just the illness or disease. Or it suggests why ecological lifestyles are appealing, because they try to reconnect us with the intrinsic value of the natural world.
In short, the life of the psyche is crucial. Jung believed it is fed not just by psychology, but better by the great spiritual traditions of our culture, with their subtle stories, sustaining rituals and inspiring dreams. The agnostic West has become detached from these resources. It is as if people are suffering from “a loss of soul”. Too often, the world does not seem to be for us, but against us.
Towards the end of his life, Jung reflected that many – perhaps most – of the people who came to see him were not, fundamentally, mentally ill. They were, rather, searching for meaning. It is a hard task. “There is no birth of consciousness without pain,” he wrote. But it is vital. Without it, human beings lose their way.