I mentioned in post 3 of this series that I am an accidental Jungian. Although I was aware of the basics of Jung’s work prior to corona, my main contact with it was a practical one. I had been using the character archetypes as a heuristic device in my fiction writing. They were something I was introduced to early on when I started writing fiction and I found them a useful way to guide character development during the writing process. I then found myself applying them to works of fiction that I was reading or movies that I was watching in the same way that I would break stories down by act and beat structure. This happened quite automatically the same way a musician might automatically analyse the key of a particular piece of music or a chef might know what ingredients have been used in a dish they were eating at a restaurant.
By the time corona came around, I was well practiced in the art of analysing behaviour in this archetypal fashion but I had never thought to apply it to the real world. It wasn’t until I read Jung’s Wotan essay that I started to apply that analysis to the public discourse and to take more seriously the idea that the archetypes were real in the sense that they were driving world events. I was encouraged in my analysis by a number of commenters on this blog and a couple of acquaintances of mine who had personal experience with Devouring Mothers and who had recognised the same pattern of behaviour in the public discourse.
Now that I’m the author of a book of applied Jungian psychology, one of the things I have been trying to do is figure out where my analysis fits within Jungian scholarship in general. This process has been slow going due to the inconvenient fact of having a day job. But, in the two months since I began writing these posts, I have gotten an outline of the situation. As it turns out, my approach sits right in the middle of a couple of live issues within the Jungian community.
What I have been doing in this series of posts and also my Devouring Mother analysis is talking about the collective psyche. I have mentioned James Hillman in earlier posts. Hillman was one Jungian who had criticised the field for a lack of attention to the collective. A commentator on last week’s post (thanks to Shane) put me on to a second, Wolfgang Giegerich, and from there I found among this essay in which Giegerich calls the confusion between individual and collective psychology’s “basic fault”.
Hillman and Giegerich are also relevant to this series of posts because they deny individuation as a process, albeit for different reasons. Giegerich states that the lack of individuation in modern society is part of the soul (or collective psyche) of modern society and is therefore not something to be criticised. He goes further and states that the desire to reintroduce individuation is nothing more than a romanticised delusion attempting to reinvigorate outdated practices that have no relevance to the modern world. Giegerich would criticise my literary analysis of Orphan stories as “archaeological psychology”. We can appreciate such stories the same way as we appreciate museum pieces but they are not part of the live culture. The fact is, there is no individuation in the modern world because the modern world has no use for it and, according to Giegerich, any yearning for a return to it is invalid. Rather, we should honestly face the world we live in and accept that individuation has no role in it. What that further implies is that individuals have no role in it and this is also what Giegerich claims. He states that the “profit motive” has erased the need for individuals.
“The true opus magnum of today takes place in an entirely different arena, not in us as individuals, but in the arena of world affairs, of global competition, in the arena of the psychological District Commissioner, who in our case, as we said, is the overwhelming pull towards maximizing profit. The individual merely feels the effects of the opus magnum as those of a blind fate, but remains absolutely disconcerted, helpless, and dumbfounded as to what it is that is happening to him and why.”
I have 99 problems with Giegerich’s position and I might write a post at a later time spelling them all out. Nevertheless, Giegerich is interesting and relevant to this series of posts for two main reasons. Firstly, he denies that individuation is still relevant to the modern world. Given that individuation is a core component of this series of posts, it’s worth working through Giegerich’s objections to it. Secondly, and following from the first point, Giegerich wants psychology to move away from the individual and towards the collective or supra-individual level. In both of these points, he and James Hillman are in agreement although they seem to have very different takes on the ramifications with Hillman desiring a re-mythologising of the world while Giegerich envisages some despair-laden epochal metamorphosis similar to Christianity. Given this series of posts has been about the collective psyche, we can use Giegerich’s analysis to try and place our analysis within current Jungian debate.
Hillman and Giegerich both address what they see as a deficiency in Jungian thought which is its focus on the individual at the expense of the collective. This imbalance makes sense for historical reasons. Both Freud and Jung earned their fame by treating individuals for personal psychiatric conditions. Most Jungians to this day earn their living in psychotherapy. Psyche means “soul” and so is tied up with millennia of religious debates focusing primarily on the individual soul. Anybody with an interest in studying collective and societal issues is not going to go into psychology. Rather, they will gravitate towards sociology, anthropology, political science and even theology. That is what those disciplines are for.
Nevertheless, as Giegerich points out, Jung was interested in supra-personal psychology and much of his later work is focused in this area. The collective unconscious was so important precisely because it provided a link between personal psychic experience and the collective. Where Giegerich differs most from Jung and other Jungians is in rejecting the idea of individuation. Giegerich sees this as part of the excessive focus on the individual which, while it may have been relevant historically, is no longer so.
“If…the telos and meaning of the opus of maximizing profit is to render people redundant, does this moment of the symbolic life not serve as our initiation into what I call the ‘psychological difference’, the difference between human and soul? Do we not have to acknowledge it as our psychopomp guiding us out of the anthropological or ontological fallacy dominating the present consciousness and into a new form of consciousness?”
One of the 99 problems I have with Giegerich is that he ascribes to the “profit motive” a quality of existential despair that, by definition, must have been missing in previous societies because he says it is the very thing that has ushered in a new era in our time. However, this seems clearly wrong. The philosopher Soren Kierkegaard is perhaps the ultimate investigator of existential despair but he was writing primarily from the context of Protestantism in northern Europe. Similarly, the existential crisis that Jung suffered was not because of the profit motive but partly the stifling atmosphere of Victorian era Switzerland and partly as a premonition of WW1.
The collective soul is almost identical with what has traditionally been called God. So, the idea here would be that God is dead and he has been replaced with the profit motive (materialism). Nietzsche had already identified this and there is a very Nietzschean tone to Giegerich’s writing. He sees this development as being cataclysmic. We now live in a world that doesn’t give a damn about us except as a component in the profit machine. However, for Giegerich there is nothing to be done except to live with this state of affairs and see where it takes us. He sees in the concept of individuation a desire to return to the old religious practices which are no longer relevant.
I would argue that understanding that what society wants for you is not the same as what you want is precisely what the individuation process is all about and always has been. Thought about another way, individuation is partly about fusing the social and individual. That’s why the natural time for individuation is the teenage years as that is the time when you must find your place in society. Individuation should allow you to find your place without sacrificing the individual. To the extent that you just follow the social script and do whatever society asks of you, you have an imbalance. You have sacrificed your individuality. The individuation process has failed. The reason people do this is because the individuation process entails exactly the despair that Giegerich talks about and people prefer to avoid that despair.
Jung was quite explicit that the unconscious is disorder, chaos and meaninglessness. But one only confronts such things when one is not willing or able to find solace in society. As we have noted in past posts in this series, you must be called to individuation by an elder. What Giegerich seems to be arguing against is the notion of individuation as “self-improvement” i.e. as a kind of bourgeois hobby. In other words, people who are not called by the spirit of the depths as Jung put it but rather pursue individuation in a casual manner by personal conscious choice.
If this is what he meant then I think Giegerich is onto something but this is precisely why the concept of initiation is crucial because initiation is the bridge between the personal experience and the collective. The elders are the holders of the tradition. They represent and channel the supra-personal. Their duty is to guide the Orphan through the same process they once went through. In doing so, they bring about the fusion of the collective and the individual. Initiation and individuation are two sides of the same coin. One faces the collective and the other faces the individual.
We noted in earlier posts that Jung had to self-initiate and this is what Giegerich seems to be objecting to. The current world soul doesn’t require this individuation, he says. It just wants profit. And we already have an initiation into this profit-driven world soul. It’s called getting a job (I suppose our current education system would also count as part of that initiation since it is now shamelessly devoted to vocational training). The ex-Prime Minister of Australia, Julia Gillard, touched on this issue when she said “work is our religion”. Giegerich accuses Jungians of hiding from this reality and pursuing an individuation process that is just a historical relic. For Giegerich, the reason we don’t have elders or old-fashioned initiations is because our world soul does not require them. We can complain about that fact and yearn for a past where it wasn’t the case or we can face up to reality and deal with the world as it is. In that world, individuation is not necessary because individuals are not necessary. What is necessary are human resources that can be used in the production and consumption of goods and services.
It is noteworthy that Giegerich presupposes that we have entered a new era because this matches up with the analysis in this series that the post-war era has ushered in something new. He even uses the word initiation but for him we are being initiated into a completely new kind of consciousness, one where the individual is not relevant. This entails a Copernican revolution for psychology because the individual human psyche would no longer be the locus. Rather, the collective psyche would take pride of place.
While I disagree with much of what Giegerich says, I admit it is an interesting perspective. Giegerich wants to take the hero out of the Hero’s Journey. This has actually been done in the literature of the 20th century under the genre of “literary fiction”. In literary fiction, there is no discernible plot and no discernible characters. When you remove plot and character, the effect is to foreground the “environment” and this matches with the collective or supra-personal that Giegerich talks about. So, it seems to me that literary fiction is an example of a form of art that shares Giegerich’s aim. The problem is that literary fiction is spectacularly boring and, contrary to the pretensions of the people who read and write it, unskilled. The world that Giegerich has in mind would be much the same. As replaceable cogs in the machine, none of us would have any distinguishing features including special skills by which we stand out. Our compensation could only be that we would rejoice in the workings of the machine. All this fits in with the life of a corporate worker: dull, dreary, repetitive and unadventurous. Giegerich does not deny that this is depressing, but he says it’s what our society is and we must learn to love it. For Giegerich, Agent Smith is the only character in The Matrix who has it right. He’s the only one able to set aside petty egotistic concerns and marvel at the beauty of the machine.
Is there a way to address the imbalance between personal and collective psyche without giving up the former? Yes, there is. Partly it’s in the initiation-individuation concept. But it’s also there in the collective unconscious. Giegerich doesn’t talk about the collective unconscious in the essay linked to above. Rather, he suggests that the problem with modern Jungian practice lies in the method of giving priority to dreams, visions and active imagination while disregarding social developments. He calls the former personal and the latter supra-personal. But this seems to me wrong in terms of what Jung himself said which is that dreams and other personal psychic experiences are our way to access the collective unconscious. Therefore, they are not personal and the Giegerich’s dichotomy breaks down.
Giegerich’s dichotomy breaks down in another way if we assume that the world of social affairs is at least as much driven by the collective unconscious as by the collective conscious. That is the approach which inspired my Devouring Mother concept. It shares with Giegerich the assumption that the consciousness of the individuals in question is irrelevant because they are being driven by larger forces. When we say, for example, that the Australian or Canadian governments were manifesting The Devouring Mother, we assume that the individual politicians and bureaucrats are acting as nothing more than channels for the collective psyche. The difference with Giegerich is we assume this is an anomaly that is caused precisely because of a lack of individuation in our society. It is because we don’t have initiation/individuation rituals that individual psyches are open to manifesting collective psychic forces from the collective unconscious. When you get rid of individuation, you open the way to mass psychoses.
Giegerich assumes that all societal events are the product of the conscious mind. This is a very ingrained habit of the modern mentality as can be seen in the variety of conspiracy theories that abound nowadays whereby every single thing that happens in the world must have a cabal of evil geniuses behind it. Of course, we should not rule out conspiracies which are an everyday part of political life. The problem is when we assume every single event is 100% defined by the conscious mind. Instead, we can simply allow the possibility that the unconscious is guiding supra-personal affairs. Again, this is nothing new and one could argue that it is only modern society which ignores the effect of the collective unconscious on world affairs. By the microcosm-macrocosm assumption, we assume the structure of the collective psyche matches that of the individual. Therefore, we assume the collective psyche has an unconscious which can drive events, especially at moments of high stress. That is why corona is far better explained by a psychology of the unconscious than the conscious.
I agree with Giegerich that a refocus on the supra-personal would be valuable but it seems to me he throws the baby out with the bathwater. We don’t need to reject the individual. In fact, rejecting the individual would cause exactly the kind of imbalance that Giegerich complains about only in the other direction. Individuation/initiation is the process which marries up the collective and the personal. It connects personal psychic experience to the collective via the unconscious. All of this is already part of Jungian thought. Giegerich’s position, by contrast, is quite illogical. If we take the individual out of psychology, what is left? We might as well just close down psychology altogether and stick to economics or sociology or any of the other disciplines that aspire to “objectivity” and which treat individuals as mere data points.
As a final note, Giegerich’s position has an awful lot in common with the Great Reset. You will own nothing and you will be happy, says Klaus Schwab. You will be nothing and you will be happy, says Giegerich. Some very powerful people hold these views and seem intent on pushing them to their logical conclusion. So, this is not a mere academic debate. It’s a real live issue that we are living through right now and most of the public appears completely blind to it. We do need to refocus on the supra-personal. But the only way to do that is via the process of individuation. So, I’d say Jung was right. The only way to save the world is through the individual.
All posts in this series: