You may recognize the title of this entry as the name of the book written by Carl Gustav Jung in 1957. In fact, I pulled that book off my shelf about six weeks ago and re-read the first chapter, entitled “The Plight of the Individual in Modern Society.” It gave me such pause that I put it away until yesterday when I read it again and the second chapter with it. Why? Because he might have been writing about his concerns about the ability of democracy to function in the year 2016 as we approach the coming presidential election in the United States. He wrote it as the Cold War was escalating.
See what you think. Here are some excerpts from the chapter that I found especially prophetic.
You can read the book "The Undiscovered Self" online.
“What will the future bring? From time immemorial this question has occupied men’s minds, though not always to the same degree. Historically, it is chiefly in times of physical, political, economic and spiritual distress that men’s eyes turn with anxious hope to the future, and when anticipations, utopias and apocalyptic visions multiply.
Today, as the end of the second millennium draws near, we are again living in an age filled with apocalyptic images of universal destruction. What is the significance of that split, symbolized by the “Iron Curtain,” which divides humanity into two halves? What will become of our civilization, and of man himself, if the hydrogen bombs begin to go off, or if the spiritual and moral darkness of State absolutism should spread over Europe?
We have no reason to take this threat lightly. Everywhere in the West there are subversive minorities who, sheltered by our humanitarianism and our sense of justice, hold the incendiary torches ready, with nothing to stop the spread of their ideas except the critical reason of a single, fairly intelligent, mentally stable stratum of the population. One should not, however, overestimate the thickness of this stratum. It varies from country to country in accordance with national temperament. Also, it is regionally dependent on public education and is subject to the influence of acutely disturbing factors of a political and economic nature….one could on an optimistic estimate put its upper limit at about 40 percent of the electorate. A rather more pessimistic view would not be unjustified either, since the gift of reason and critical reflection is not one of man’s outstanding peculiarities, and even where it exists it proves to be wavering and inconstant, the more so, as a rule, the bigger the political groups are. The mass crushes out the insight and reflection that are still possible with the individual, and this necessarily leads to doctrinaire and authoritarian tyranny if ever the constitutional State should succumb to a fit of weakness.
Rational argument can be conducted with some prospect of success only so long as the emotionality of a given situation does not exceed a certain critical degree. If the affective temperature rises above this level, the possibility of reason’s having any effect ceases and its place is taken by slogans and chimerical wish-fantasies. That is to say, a sort of collective possession results which rapidly develops into a psychic epidemic.
In this state all those elements whose existence is merely tolerated as asocial under the rule of reason come to the top. Such individuals are by no means rare curiosities to be met with only in prisons and lunatic asylums. For every manifest case of insanity there are, in my estimation, at least ten latent cases who seldom get to the point of breaking out openly but whose views and behavior, for all their appearance of normality, are influenced by unconsciously morbid and perverse factors…. But even if their number should amount to less than ten times that of the manifest psychoses and of manifest criminality, the relatively small percentage of the population figures they represent is more than compensated for by the peculiar dangerousness of these people. Their mental state is that of a collectively excited group ruled by affective judgments and wish-fantasies. In a state of “collective possession” they are the adapted ones and consequently they feel quite at home in it. Their chimerical ideas, up borne by fanatical resentment, appeal to the collective irrationality and find fruitful soil there, for they express all those motives and resentments which lurk in more normal people under the cloak of reason and insight. They are, therefore, despite their small number in comparison with the population as a whole, dangerous as sources of infection precisely because the so-called normal person possesses only a limited degree of self-knowledge.
Most people confuse “self-knowledge” with knowledge of their conscious ego personalities. Anyone who has any ego-consciousness at all takes it for granted that he knows himself. But the ego knows only its own contents, not the unconscious and its contents. People measure their self-knowledge by what the average person in their social environment knows of himself, but not by the real psychic facts which are for the most part hidden from them. In this respect the psyche behaves like the body with its physiological and anatomical structure, of which the average person knows very little too. Although he lives in it and with it, most of it is totally unknown to the layman, and special scientific knowledge is needed to acquaint consciousness with what is known of the body, not to speak of all that is not known, which also exists.
What is commonly called “self-knowledge” is therefore a very limited knowledge, most of it dependent on social factors, of what goes on in the human psyche. Hence one is always coming up against the prejudice that such and such a thing does not happen “with us” or “in our family” or among our friends and acquaintances, and on the other hand, one meets with equally illusory assumptions about the alleged presence of qualities which merely serve to cover up the true facts of the case.
In this broad belt of unconsciousness, which is immune to conscious criticism and control, we stand defenseless, open to all kinds of influences and psychic infections. Since self-knowledge is a matter of getting to know the individual facts, theories help very little in this respect. For the more a theory lays claim to universal validity, the less capable it is of doing justice to the individual facts.”
There you have it. This is why I feel uneasy when I watch the news and listen to political babble going on in our country. This is also why I am an advocate of Yoga and the constant practice of self-study. That translates as a promise to look yourself in the mirror every morning and be brutally honest with yourself, your feelings, thoughts, attitudes, beliefs, assumptions, intentions, motivations, and all actions, overt and covert. It’s really important. We still get most of it wrong when we are trying to be honest and it takes a long time to get more clear and less judgmental, but every day spent working on it makes you and the world you live in a safer place for all of us… but more importantly, for those who come after us.
Choose to act by keeping the welfare of the children who will inherit the world foremost in your consciousness. How you feel and what you think are not useful guides in making decisions, because you don’t really know what they mean until you have explored what is behind them, until you know your Self more clearly. You have to acknowledge them but then work past them to get to more truthful, authentic living.