Author Topic: Culture, complexity, and the brain in Jungianism  (Read 6432 times)

Matt Koeske

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Culture, complexity, and the brain in Jungianism
« on: November 11, 2008, 11:54:14 AM »
I've been perusing the Jungian journals recently, and it has encouraged me to fine tune some of the criticisms I've been leveling at Jungianism over the last years.  Before I address that fine tuning, I would like to clarify (although I feel it should be obvious) that my method of critiquing Jungianism is by no means intended to be an academic one.  There is no criticism or revision without a moral investment.  Much academic criticism is generated in accord with a silent pact that runs throughout all academic fields that and holds that the critic should pretend that s/he is not emotionally invested in his or her criticism.  We persist with the decorum that our debates and discussions are "purely intellectual" and reasonable.  Therefore, the persona that academic writers are called upon (by their tribes) to use is one that cloaks feeling behind a kind of detached, erudite rhetoric.

Of course, we are all human, and so our feelings will slip out from time to time even when we are doing our best to mask and depotentiate them.  But academics who express such feeling break tribal taboos and may endanger their status or acceptance in the tribe (equally, I would be willing to bet that those academic thinkers around whom cultish followings form are the ones most likely to slip affect-laden rhetoric into their writings and ideas, which is perceived by academic readers as "mana-infested" and encourages both possession and rejection . . . i.e., affect-driven responses).  The Jungian attitude is no different.  In fact, Jung's notion of affect as "undifferentiated emotion" is very telling.  Jung believed that when one integrates, differentiates, comes to terms with, becomes conscious of, etc. emotion and feeling, it will result in an emotionally depotentiated stance, a kind of increased stoicism.  Perhaps not something so severe as an "inner peace", but an increased detachment from the natural spontaneous reaction ("compulsion" in Jung's words) to emotive stimuli.  Essentially, emotions are bad until they are intellectualized and kept at a distance.  I doubt Jung would advocate that phrasing, and in fact he criticized such detach intellectuality on many occasions.  But I still feel Jung's stance leaned toward this intellectualization of emotion.  It certainly seems so from the perspective of a real "feeling type", at least.  What this means is that, as in many academic fields (and other arenas of human tribalism), affect is mana-infested, numinous, and treated as Other in the Jungian tribe.

I see this entire attitude toward affect and feeling as not only stunted, but constructed culturally.  It is a part of our modern academic cultural indoctrination to think and write this way.  Jung was at least partially aware of this cultural construction, as evidenced especially in the way he wrote about "primitives".  "Primitives", Jung believed, did not have any emotional differentiation and so reacted spontaneously and compulsively to any emotional stimuli without any conscious constraint.  What Jungians often forget is that human emotions evolved over millions of years to aid survivability.  In our environment of evolutionary adaptedness, our affects were adaptive (more often than not).  The idea that affect is a dangerous and problematic Other comes to fruition in early modernization (by which I mean proto-modern civilizations of 2000-3000 years ago and perhaps earlier).  Affect becomes a problem (as the "gods become diseases") when we no longer live in a social structure that reinforces our instincts.  The concept of self-mastery, whether spiritual or civil, begins to become especially prevalent with the rise of proto-modern civilization.  Platonic philosophy makes an especially severe distinction between matter and spirit or body and soul (or affect-instinct and ego-mind), a distinction that became fundamental to Christianity and therefore to western civilization.

To be fair to Jungians and other academics, the modern world imposes greater constraints on our reactivity and spontaneity than the tribal environment might.  But I think we should not look at this modern development as a good in itself or as some kind of evidence of cultural evolution.  We evolved an intelligent reactive system in our affects, and we now live in a world in which this instinct cannot imprint with an environmental factor.  Our affect is dissociated.  But this doesn't make it fundamentally unsound.  Perhaps the problem is that, if academics allowed themselves to express their critical or partisan emotions in their writing and speech, screaming and violence would quickly erupt.  There is no ritual system to deal with strong emotions; there is only an indoctrination into a pact of repression of them.  When we make an enemy of affect, we polarize ourselves with it, making it seem darker, more terrible.  When we make our conscious identities into something brittle, every natural current in our psyches and bodies is a threat to stability.  Complex dynamism is a threat.

Obviously, I see this academic mode and attitude toward feeling as flawed.  But I am not suggesting that we all go "primal" and start beating each other with clubs.  We can't just flick a switch and open the flood gates that kept back the deluge for so many years.  We have no idea how to manage the reintegration of affect.  Even though Jung seems prejudiced against emotion from my perspective, he was, I think, on the right path of trying to valuate and integrate it or transform it into something functional.  I agree with that general idea, but his specific method was still marred by his various prejudices toward emotion, feeling, and affect.

In my own writing, I let feeling (and also "affect") guide me.  It is due to this that I approach every issue as if it contained an ethical imperative . . . and not only an ethical imperative, but a problem of survivability.  That is, I am concerned that our intellectual paradigms need to work in practical and adaptive ways.  I feel these paradigms have to facilitate instinct, or they are useless.  So, when I approach Jungianism, I do so with consciousness of 1.) my affiliation with or participation in the Jungian tribe, 2.) an emotional and ethical investment in the tribe's welfare, and 3.) a distinct desire to propose or advocate reforms that would promote the tribe's survivability.  These are all factors of Eros.  I make points of these Eros factors both because I am an Eros-driven and Eros-centric person and because I feel that Jungians more often than not are dangerously unconscious of how their various Eros factors play into their thinking and tribal behavior.  That is, our social behavior and the nature of our tribal affiliations within the Jungian tribe are, I believe, largely unconscious.  And this unconsciousness, although it drives us to behave like tribalists and compels us toward a kind of Eros of participation mystique, is dysfunctional for survival in a modern environment.  By being too unconscious of our sociality, we are failing to adapt to the real environment.  Our survival has become dependent on isolating ourselves from the modern environment.  The tie between our isolated tribe and the rest of modernity is a kind of unconscious and untended pact.  We have jobs (for the most part) and clients who sustain us, but we do not have a developed understanding of our relationship with modernity or of the social nature and implications of the service we provide.  For example, we are not adequately examining whether we are actually "healing" patients or indoctrinating them into an isolated, pre-modern tribe.  We are not adequately examining the ethical aspects of our socialization and socializing.

We will remain unconscious until our job security starts to degrade.  Health management (in the U.S.) keeps clamping down harder on psychotherapies, client pools dry up or become demographically homogeneous and limited, our standard of living decreases as our salaries have to decrease, etc.  Fewer clients require us to charge more, and the higher rates increasingly limit the clientèle demographically (to those who can more readily purchase isolation from the modern).  The modern world shakes us in its teeth a bit, and we have to start waking up to the unconscious structure of our tribal sociality.  If the Jungian client pool starts to dry up (and we recognize that something needs to be done about this), we have to look around outside our tribe for methods and ideas that can help refresh us.  But falling into this situation we might also have to contend with our own shadows.  Why didn't we act on this sooner?  Why didn't we see it coming?  And as we begin to appropriate outside ideas and influences, how will this effect our collective psyche?  For instance, many Jungians have been adopting object relations ideas for the last few decades now to supplement what they don't understand in Jung's thinking or what Jung did not well address.  But what is the social and ethical fallout of the adoption of object relations theories?  How conscious have we been in our attempts to incorporate these theories?  I worry that we have not been conscious enough.

The same thing could be said about the biological sciences or culture theories boosted from the humanities and social sciences.  Some of these things were resisted for decades by the Jungian analytical community . . . so why did we resist, and why are we starting to embrace them now?  What psychological effect will the increased adoption of these elements have on our tribe?  How would an unconscious relationship with these other fields affect our group psyche?  When I have proposed that Jungians should pay more attention to neuroscience or evolutionary biology, I didn't mean to advocate a wholesale and unconscious assimilation of these fields.  I meant that we should add the relevant data and theoretical paradigms of these fields to our investigation and assessment.  I meant that we should form a more conscious relationship with these fields . . . that we should neither dismiss their data and ideas sight unseen nor adopt them without understanding these ideas well enough or understanding what such an adoption might do to our collective sense of self.  It is an ethical as well as an intellectual issue.  I have focused mostly on the ethical issues of adopting data and investigative and theoretical paradigms from other fields (especially more-scientific ones).

As I have charged into various criticisms of Jungianism, I have tried to uphold the spirit of ethical consciousness and the ethical weight of intellectual and scientific ideas.  Therefore, I have been addressing not some specific group of Jungians ("those Jungians") but a sub-personality in all of us associated with the Jungian tribe, a personality that is distinctly Jungian, that was created along with our indoctrination.  This specific sub-personality is the Jungian shadow (and persona, both), and I have been trying to bring consciousness to it.  Bringing consciousness or valuation to the shadow is always an ethical venture.  It stirs up a lot of emotion, and that emotion needs to be processed and observed carefully.  By addressing my criticisms to the Jungian shadow (more accurately, to the egoic attitude that would confine such feelings and ideas to the shadow), I have chosen a generalizing approach.  The danger of such a generalizing approach, of course, is that everyone will say, "Well, that doesn't pertain to me . . . maybe to those other Jungians, but not me."  Or else, "He doesn't really understand what's going on in the field today.  He's basing his criticism on some constructed personage that doesn't exist.  Therefore, his criticisms are moot."

Despite recognizing that danger, I really don't see it this way.  The whole point of doing shadow work, whether individually or collectively, is to learn how to identify with the shadow, how to empathize with it.  We must be able to say (with absolute honesty): "I can see myself as that shadowy figure.  I could do or feel or think those things."  Of course, I can't make other people do shadow work.  All I can do is suggest that such shadow work should be done and model the kind of shadow valuation required to do that work.  Part of valuating the shadow is deconstructing the egoic position that has rigidified.  Jungians would more typically call this ego position a persona.  So it is the Jungian persona that must be deconstructed as the Jungian shadow is valuated and empathized with.  But the persona is just as much a generalization or mythic personage as the shadow.  We can all say, "That's not me.  That doesn't pertain to me."  But until we can look in this shadow mirror with integrity, we will not be able to address our problems.  We are in a position today like the character in Bob Dylan's "Ballad of a Thin Man": something is happening here, but you don't know what it is . . . do you, Mr Jones?  We are so mired in our constructed self-image and tribal affiliation, that we are not asking what really is happening here.
You can always come back, but you can’t come back all the way.

   [Bob Dylan,"Mississippi]

Matt Koeske

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Re: Culture, complexity, and the brain in Jungianism
« Reply #1 on: November 11, 2008, 01:11:09 PM »

With that preamble out of the way, I'd like to touch on some of the recent Jungian articles and reviews I've read or skimmed.  But, again, I will be taking only a very general approach.  What I'm interested in are three trends in contemporary Jungian literature and thinking (as opposed to specific articles).  These are interests in culture theories, neuroscience, and complex systems and organization.  The latter two are fields that I have also been stumping for the inclusion of . . . and so one would think that I should be pleased to see Jungians venturing out into these unknowns.  And I am pleased, but I am also at least as much concerned for the reasons I've outlined above.  Primarily, I am concerned that even as Jungians are beginning to explore these more-scientific fields (neuroscience specifically), we have not paid enough attention to the psychology of such appropriations and/or dabblings.  We have not asked enough how the inclusion of such things could affect us nor discussed enough the problems of integrating new data and ideas that come from mindsets very foreign to the Jungian.

I have noticed two main trends in the way Jungian writers have mentioned and attempted to incorporate scientific data from other fields.  The first is that such data is cited or mentioned, but without any significant attempt at integrating or reconciling it with preexisting Jungian ideas.  For instance, I have yet to see dedicated efforts to reckon with the feeling implications of tapping into rationalistic science.  We have so long eschewed and disdained such science and its materialistic, rationalistic perspective.  But does the appropriation of such data and thinking require that we must revise our old ways or give up on some of our old gods?  That question is not being asked (but I know the inner turmoil is present behind the scenes), and the absence of that asking suggests that we do not really know what we are getting ourselves into.  Also, to make an analogy, if an Israeli Jew gave a Muslim a mysterious box as a present (assuming they are strangers to one another), or vice versa, would there not perhaps be some trepidation or suspicion regarding the box's contents?  So, if we have just brought home a mysterious present from rationalistic science, is there no inner demon to wrestle with?  Have we asked ourselves if this present will prove dangerous?  Have we reflected on our prejudicial feelings regarding the Other?  How have we reckoned with the appropriation, and what have we learned about ourselves from that reckoning?

Can we snatch up some miscellaneous data from neuroscience as if we haven't been at war with materialistic science for decades?  Can we simply pretend we are also rationalistic scholars who have full rights to share that data and mindset?  Can we make such appropriations as though we were not academic exiles?  Can we mention neuroscientific data in the same breath that we talk about spirit and soul or about the collective unconscious or synchronicity?  I think not.  To actually reckon with scientific data like these, we have to look into our own affect and be affected.  Have we been indoctrinated into the neuroscientific, rationalistic tribe to such a degree that we can simply adopt its ideas and conventions without it becoming a moral issue?

I don't think we can absorb this kind of scientific data without it rattling us to the bone.  We can't appropriate rationalistic ideas without reckoning with the way these ideas challenge and perhaps revise our fundamental beliefs and dispositions.  We also need to be discerning or well-read enough in these appropriated fields like neuroscience to make sure that we are not gobbling up fringe or highly speculative thinking while ignoring the rationales and scientific methods of developing and analyzing data in these fields.  I read recently that it had been fairly well established that archetypes exist in the brain's right hemisphere!!  What an amazing discovery that is . . . especially considering the fact that we have yet to establish the existence of archetypes as an innate and inherited trait.  We can't even agree upon what archetypes are, how many there are, why they affect us as they do, and what evolutionary purpose they might serve (since they have an instinctual/biological component according to Jung).  How then can we know that they exist in the brain's right hemisphere?  Also not included in this wild speculation is the ongoing problems in the field of neuroscience with split-brain conceptions.  Although depth psychologists and New Age patrons have embraced the split-brain, rational/irrational metaphor, this is far from understood or established in neuroscience itself.  Any neuroscientist with a shred of discipline and scientific ethicality would tell us that we know only the most rudimentary things about various "brain modules" and how they are responsible for various elements of our cognition, sensation, and emotion.  What's more, the way these modules coordinate with one another to produce mind and thought or the experience of psyche is every bit as baffling as it ever was.  When we appropriate data and theories from other fields, these are the kinds of things we need to be much more aware of.

Additionally, the ethical use of scientific data involves a method in which hypotheses are constructed from the data through inductive reasoning.  Inductive reasoning contains inherent loopholes (e.g., it's all too easy to form flawed generalizations from incomplete sets of data, and so generalizations must be constantly and carefully revised), and therefore requires an ethical obligation to the data that trumps the personalized sense of reasoning and "joy of comprehension" in order to maintain scientific functionality. We have had the tendency to bring our prior, more-metaphysical hypotheses to the scientific data that interest us most and can most easily be spun to fit our hypotheses.  This is the second troubling trend in the contemporary Jungian use of science.  What we have too often been failing to understand is that using data from scientific fields (inductively) should mean adhering to scientific methods of data gathering and analysis or evaluation.  To be scientific in the application of inductive reasoning we must take up an ethical burden of self-consciousness or self-observation of our "personal equations".  To "do science" in a field like depth psychology is effectively to do shadow work.

Many theories proposed in a field like neuroscience are countered by other equally logical, equally data-based theories that are nonetheless contradictory.  If we intend to use scientific data and inductive reasoning, we have to essentially buy stock in the scientific method, scientific ethicality, and the way those data are being used in the field.  We have to form a pact with ourselves to use these data and techniques ethically and appropriately.  Scientists, like Jungians, often fail to take up the ethical burden that inductive reasoning entails, but the material sciences are better at self-regulating than depth psychology is.  If a material scientist is unethical or sloppy in his or her use of induction, his or her theory or hypothesis will be flawed and is likely to be more quickly disproved by other scientists in the field . . . as scientists are always testing and analyzing data.  Cutting edge neuroscience has fewer failsafes of this kind than better established realms of biological science because the field of neuroscience is newer, and the object of study is tremendously complex and only minimally understood and tested.  The testing itself in neuroscience is currently limited to very recently developed and still-developing techniques like magnetic resonance imaging and other neuroimaging techniques.  The relationship of the data these techniques produce to what we experience as cognition or psyche and study in psychology is not currently adequately understood.

As Jungians, we are not exactly lab rats.  We do not have to collect, test, retest, and analyze data all day long.  Therefore, the conscious ethical burdens on our use of data are more pronounced.  It is incumbent upon us to know ourselves . . . and to know ourselves out of our data and attempts at induction and analysis.  When we are borrowing data and research, it is all the easier to forgo our ethical obligations to science.  We can all too easily tell ourselves that such burdens belong to the scientists and lab rats . . . and that the data we have appropriated comes "ethically cleansed" and fit for Jungian consumption.  But this is extremely naive to say the least.

Despite my frequent rallying cries for reintroducing science into Jungian thinking, I think we must (and I try very hard to) be extremely cautious with how we use such science and the data from other fields.  I am personally much too conservative intellectually or rationally to buy into any fringe data from a field like neuroscience that seem to corroborate Jungian notions of psyche.  I am not looking into science for corroborating data.  I am merely interested in data from which I can learn more and better construct viable hypotheses.  I also have and value my Jungian intuitions of and poetic metaphors for psyche, but I don't really feel compelled to champion a specific philosophy or ideology.  I am merely looking for gnosis, investigating what is.  My interest in what something is like is more of a linguistic or poetic interest.  I'm looking for a language that can best approximate what is and convey that to other people.  This language is my own "artistic" development, my own personal project.  I try to dedicate it to the data, revise it as the data indicates.  But theory shouldn't be self-serving or self-congratulatory.  It should seek to explain, as well as possible, what is.  Ego should be factored out to the best of the theorist's ability.

This is not easy to do with the rather subjective psychological data we have most ready access to.  Jung wrote clearly about the "personal equation" and the difficulty/impossibility of finding an Archimedean point from which to observe psyche.  I have written elsewhere how I think this can be achieved or best approximated, but there is no ideal solution.  Some incorporation of basic evolutionary psychological reasoning should prove helpful.  That is, if we start investigating  how and why consciousness evolved as it did (to what evolutionary purpose), then we can begin to approximate what the ego or egoic perception is like, what its typical traits are.  I think that the conventional understanding of the ego in Jungian psychology is flawed (more accurately the theory of psychic structure that polarizes consciousness and unconsciousness is flawed).  In more careful observation there is no distinct line between consciousness and unconsciousness . . . and much of what is unconscious can come into consciousness either intentionally or spontaneously.  Although none of this contradicts Jung's own thinking, I get the impression from reading Jungian literature that there is by no means an agreement on what the ego really is.  We speak about it largely in a poetic and metaphorical fashion.

The key area in which we Jungians have not differentiated ego very effectively is that of spirituality and religion.  Jungians from Jung onward have been lopsidedly religious and quite open to the valuation of spiritual experience for what it seems to be.  We do not generally question its metaphysical or philosophical accuracy.  As much as we pat ourselves on the back for our ability to value religion and spiritual experience, our open-armed policy leaves us with next to no ability to differentiate religious experiences on a feeling level.  Our approach has been to amplify religious (as well as "neurotic") fantasies and connect them with those fantasies and philosophies of various cultures throughout history.  We feel that the lack of discrimination we employ in regard to religious experiences and fantasies is justified by the pure numinousness of these experiences.  Essentially, we don't differentiate numinousness.  It is taboo, unquestionable, unexaminable.

This is the attitude taken by a person who is somewhat dissociated from what Jungians call the "feeling function".  That is, there is too little discrimination in the feeling realm.  Powerful and numinous feelings are either unquestioningly embraced as Truth or unquestioningly rejected as "affect".  The individual does not take a conscious, differentiating or questioning perspective on these powerful emotional experiences.  But if we do ask these dangerous questions of the gods, we come to learn that there is quite a bit of ego in our constructions of divinity.  When we taboo affect, we are not learning about the Self from being in conflict or debate with God.  We have a hard time seeing ourselves as prodigals.  We are the good sons and daughters who always believe . . . and we resent the straying of our prodigal siblings.  They are puers, nutters, ill people, narcissists, prisoners of their complexes.  But we, we are the righteous ones.  We have see the light and the truth and know that it is best to sit down right where we are and soak up the rays of the divine Self.

Meanwhile, we all have dreams of conflict with the Self.  The righteous among us are no less likely to have such conflict dreams.  In fact, it is not atypical for the righteous to have many such conflict dreams, dreams of "anti-heroism" where the dream ego fails to heed the Call.  I would propose, in contrast, that anytime the Self nudges us to change, to adapt, to stay plastic and dynamic, we will always feel some resistance.  Not all of our identity is willing to embrace such changes casually.  All change is hard for the ego.  We love our luxurious plateaus, and we won't do anything transformative or Self-valuating unless we are urged to do so.  That is, unless the Self suffers for our egoic rigidity and neglect and starts to groan and react, we are not going to change, we will not be able to change.  The ego (which is significantly constructed by culture and abstract information) is not really a dynamic entity unless is is "animated" by the material dynamism of the Self.  This "animation" has classically been attributed to the "soul" in the construct where the ego is conflated with and equivalent to "spirit", and autonomous instinctual drives and self-regulations are equivalent to "body".

The constructive and genuine relationship with God or the Self is one of distinct Otherness and conflict.  And unless we are going to jump into the ring with God and demand answers, unless we are willing to lose these matches again and again in order to learn about ourselves, we will not be able to differentiate ego from Self.  The Self does not disdain combat from the ego . . . so long as it is genuine and seeks a mutual or synthetic goal (a kind of homeostasis or equilibrium, a reduction of anxiety).  It doesn't matter if that conflict starts with arrogance or puer flights of fancy.  These qualities are not usually deemed sinful by the Self unless we use them as excuses not to step into the ring.

What I am trying to say is that the Jungian attitude toward the Self and the unconscious and God/the gods is not only distinctly religious, it is even more distinctly anti-atheistic, anti-prodigal.  As a Jungian atheist, I have often found that I am perceived by other Jungians as the strangest and sometimes most vile of human platypuses.  But it is precisely my Luciferian attitude toward gods and religions that has driven my spirituality.  Sometimes, to love God is to oppose God, to ask God to be more real, better defined, less concealed.  The God that opposes such engagement and challenge is a God cloaked in taboo, a totem God, a God upholding an egoic projection.  Although it seems to me perfectly legitimate and logical to be a Jungian atheist, this is by no means a majority opinion.  I don't suggest that Jungians should "convert to atheism" . . . but I do think it is incumbent upon us to question our own lopsided religiosity and investigate how it might leave taboos for us to avoid, taboos that prevent us from discovering and valuating our shadows effectively.

What we can see in the alchemical tradition is that gods under investigation and "attack" do not (as the religionist secretly fears) disappear.  They transform.  Atheism or the challenge of divinity does not destroy gods or faith; it refines faith, transforming faith into valuation, into gnosis.  The superficial layers surrounding the gods that our alchemical Work dissolves end up being layers of projection, layers of loose ego . . . that we have been worshiping in the name of the gods all along.  The real reason for the taboo on challenging the gods is that we run the risk of learning that we were worshiping ourselves.  The taboo around gods prevents us from the terrible discovery that we have peopled them with our own mortal traits.  And it secretly pleases us to think that the inner workings of our minds are divine.  We don't want to find out that the mind can be broken down into simpler subsystems that are not substantially different than those in other animals.  We believe that God, like the ego, is a kind of emergent or transcendent thing, a whole intelligence above and beyond the universe, not a primitive and elemental thing.  We don't want to dissolve the illusion of the transcendent and ego-like God, the abstract God-On-High.  We don't know how to value a non-transcendent God, a God-Below or a God of matter and instinct, because these qualities are definitively Other to the ego.  The belief in the transcendent or abstract God is a veiled belief in the divinity of the human ego.  And if God were not egoic, we wouldn't know how to valuate it.  The God made in our own image we can love and worship, but not the Other God.

But by allowing all religious fantasies to be equally divine and totemic and undifferentiated, we fail to differentiate a very important aspect of our egoism.  I feel Jungianism, in order to evolve and develop necessary integrity, will have to find a way to survive atheism and the death of the gods and not reject it as heresy.
You can always come back, but you can’t come back all the way.

   [Bob Dylan,"Mississippi]

Matt Koeske

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Re: Culture, complexity, and the brain in Jungianism
« Reply #2 on: November 11, 2008, 03:06:17 PM »
Next, I'd like to address the recent Jungian trend of interest in culture.  The shortcoming in Jungian thinking that we have been most open to working with is the overemphasis on the individual at the expense of the "collective".  This emphasis on the individual is one area in which I have been less critical of Jungianism than even many Jungians themselves have been.  The reason for this is that I don't see Jungianism as having anything very useful to say about culture at this point in time.  The occasionally proposed notions that various archetypes can take possession of whole cultures and drive extreme behaviors seem not at all credible to me.  There are other fields and schools of thought that address human cultures much more effectively than Jungian psychology does.  When we do turn to culture theories, what we propose usually seems wildly speculative to me . . . and generally not practical.  And of course, we have the shadow issue of Jung's various cultural prejudices that are not yet completely revised and repented for.  Jung believed in the colonialist construction of "primitivism", the chauvinistic construction of sexism/misogyny, (at least at times) the racial constructions of the Jew, the "Negro", etc.  He looked at social and economic atrocities as a psychologist looking for a disease of the mind, but he didn't look at economics and classism.  He looked at Christianity and its theology as if it were a pure expression of the unconscious and not as a political movement whose dogmas led to (and may even have been developed to implement) the systematic oppression of various peoples and the transfer of a more distributed wealth to a radically wealthy elite made up of royals and Church officials.  He believed generally in cultural evolution and the idea that Western civilization was an evolution from primitive civilization . . . and Christian civilization an evolution from pagan civilization.

Also, as a romantic spiritualist from early in his life (although also, but to a lesser degree, a rational materialist), Jung did not seem to perceive or account for the subculture of German romanticism that his theories embodied and promoted.  We have to qualify Jung's anti-rationalism and criticism of materialistic science, because this attitude belonged to a whole school of thought that Jung belonged to (and did not by any means found).  That is, it was a tribal affiliation for Jung . . . and he did not criticize that affiliation or that tribe, at least not to the degree that he criticized its opponents, the rationalists and materialists.  Jung also showed himself to be generally out of touch with modern art, which in itself is certainly no sin (is merely a matter of taste).  But as a psychologist of modern culture, he could have better understood the artistic trends of his time.  This is a non-exhaustive list of his cultural blind spots or ignorances.  I don't mean to suggest that he should have been able to see through all of these affiliations and constructions.  I think he generally saw through significantly more than most people do.  But we Jungians must deal with the cultural baggage and constructions Jung did not have the time or inclination to question adequately.

So, for us to charge off into cultural theories based on Jungian thinking is, to say the least, premature in my opinion.  But to be interested in culture is by no means illegitimate.  My personal inclination is to try to deconstruct and comprehend culture rationally before resorting to psychological or spiritualistic speculations about archetypal trends in an invisible and undetectable "collective consciousness".  For instance, a rationalistic cultural deconstructionist like Noam Chomsky has infinitely more to say about culture than any Jungian could hope to dream up.  Chomsky is merely dedicated to the "cleansing of information".  That is, he seeks to figure out what is driving trends and decisions in culture (especially in government and business) by evaluating information and language, by fact-checking, by eliminating spin, by generally applying a scientific method of research to the evaluation and analysis of cultural data.  Chomsky's view of culture is significantly less impaired by romanticisms and psychologizations than Jungian cultural theories.  In fact, in the realm of politics, Chomsky is not even a theorist.  He is merely an information cleanser.

But what Chomsky's method of information cleansing demonstrates is that culture makes a lot more sense when we are able to navigate our way through its propaganda, its rhetoric, its various, often conflicting tribal interests.  Until we get a clearer understanding of how our society operates and why, trying to apply psychological theories for collective behavior is next to worthless . . . or is merely an exercise in poetics or propaganda.  Another complication when dealing with modern culture is that we are dealing with many interrelated massively complex systems of organization.  That extreme degree of complexity means that many predictions are completely worthless.  There are just too many factors, too many iterations in the system . . . and there is nothing regulating it.  It is self-organizing.  As excellent a rationalist and information-cleanser as Noam Chomsky is, his ability to predict future developments (which he has occasionally tried to do) is significantly less developed than his ability to determine what is.  That is largely, I think, because predicting the behavior of a complex system is not a rational (or really a possible) task.  Luckily some of his predictions (like nuclear war) have yet to come true.

But trying to determine how a specific archetype might push the complex system of culture one direction or another is merely a process of divination . . . and Jung never had any more luck with his cultural divinations than anyone else has.

Some Jungians have proposed that there is a cultural layer of the unconscious.  Generally I don't disagree.  But what they have called the cultural unconscious has been talked about in other fields for decades as cultural constructionism.  Calling this constructionism the cultural unconscious has two main flaws: 1.) it appropriates an already well-developed idea from another field and changes its name . . . which strikes me as slightly offensive and ignorant . . . or intellectually shameful, and 2.) the original and better develop theories of cultural constructionism are themselves impaired by their component religious rejection of the biological predispositions of human psychology and sociality.  To make matters worse, by buying into a cultural constructionist paradigm, Jungians buy into the religious rejection of biology, which would actually be much better suited to Jungian archetypal thinking than cultural constructionism would be.

But even among evolutionary psychologists, there is a general agreement that personality is (very roughly) about 50% environmentally constructed.  What Jungians could contribute to is a theory of precisely how personality is culturally constructed . . . and how biological, inherited predispositions influence and guide the way various individuals accept and reject specific constructions.  That is, Jungians are in a position to understand the instinctual/biological processes of personality formation and transformation better than any other psychologists because of our experience with cataloging archetypes and observing mythic and dream image trends and movements (the images generated by instinctual processes).  Despite my own propensity for "biologism", I do see the ego as very significantly constructed by culture and environmental factors.  In my estimation, the ego is constructed by non-instinctual/non-biological factors to a degree that well-surpasses the "collective constructionism" of the conventional Jungian notion of the ego.  Additionally, my proposed paradigm for a metaphorical structure of the psyche is based on what I call the Core Complex that is essentially a parallel of the way our brains (and therefore personalities) "wire up" from infancy through childhood and into adolescence.  But I feel it's necessary to differentiate the Core Complex from the superficially similar Jungian idea of a personal unconscious.  The Core Complex (although observed as metaphor or psychic phenomenon) is essentially (i.e., "quantumly") a biological structure.  It is "the way we are wired".  And its hypothesis includes a rejection of the spiritualistic Jungian theory of the collective unconscious.  The Core Complex is the stage or venue in which we experience all psychic activity.  The archetypes, the Self, the Demon . . . these all take form through the Core Complex and have no a priori existence, except as abstractions or hypothetical categories of organization.  I.e., there are no "pure" archetypes in my proposed paradigm.  Archetypal images are not really diluted formations of archetypes.  There is only the archetypal image as we experience it . . . and we can call it animus or Self or trickster, but these categories are ways of consciously organizing what is already whole in itself and cannot be broken down into some kind of ensouled vessel.  There is no soul to such archetypes, they are products of complex organization, and removal of their seemingly superficial components results not in distillation into a pure form by in complete evaporation.

I suggest that, as Jungians, as depth psychologists, we begin by approaching cultural theories very cautiously . . . and self-analytically.  I think we should first ask why we are driven to venture into this realm of theory-making . . . especially when we have not made many revisions to our theories of individual psychology.  Next, I would propose that we turn our cultural analyses on our own Jungian subculture and not dive into the deep end of analyzing other cultures (a thing for which we are radically unprepared and unqualified).  I also think further examination and discussion of the social significance of individuation is desperately needed.  My personal experience of individuation is that it divides the individual from his or her tribal affiliations and creates many problems while solving relatively few.  We still haven't figured out whether individuation is 1.) real, 2.) a spiritual, cultural, or instinctual/biological movement of personality, 3.) worth all the pain and suffering of the work it entails, 4.) essentially the same thing as various mystical transcendence and enlightenment programs from the East and the occult, 5.) prescribable in a Jungian analysis, 6.) a willed achievement or a necessity of survival, 7.) a matter of "becoming conscious", 8.) a matter of "integrating auxiliary and inferior functions", 9.) equivalent only to finding a spiritual center to the personality to devote oneself to, 10.) possible in all cultures from the tribal to the modern . . . or only possible in, for instance, modernity, 11.) a construction, an adaptation, or an attainment, 12.) an aspect of individual psychology alone or an aspect of human sociality . . . and so on.

All of these example questions that I just randomly chose are things that have not been adequately addressed or credibly resolved in Jungian thinking.  Some of them may not even have been asked.  I have dealt extensively (but by no means exhaustively) in my writing with all of these questions and a number of others, and although I make no claim to having provided satisfactory answers to any of them, I mean to suggest that it is not impossible to wrestle with these kinds of questions progressively.  But if we cannot understand the individuation process, how can we understand the ways in which it relates to our sociality (or doesn't)?  Although almost all Jungian writers have taken a stab at speculating on the individuation process or they have provided anecdotes or pieces of case studies, many have left the "problems" of the individuation process heavily veiled and mystified.  This mystification certainly began with Jung himself, but I find it curious that we have not been able to "experience" enough individuation to more substantially revise and generalize the process.  It has been as if individuation is an ideal we speculate and fantasize about but never embody or actualize.  Individuation as totem . . . but the inner Work itself is somewhat taboo in our Jungian culture.  If this were not the case, we would be able to talk about individuation much more clearly and uniformly.  We would be able to explain it to neophytes and experts from other fields with opposing philosophies.  We would be able to show that it is a logical construction, whether one "believes in it" or not.

But we haven't been able to lift individuation sufficiently out of mysticism and mystification.  We have failed to have anything but a primal experience of it, and so we have not been able to formulate it in a scientific language.  But this hasn't widely been viewed as a failure.  Rather, we have patted ourselves on the back and celebrated our neoprimitive numen worship and vague individuation fantasies.  But why haven't we asked more of why the individuation fantasies that our active imagination exercises, mandalas drawings, dreams, and other complex-driven obsessions turn up remain representational and abstract and lack a more material and substantial validity?  From the beginning, the individuation case studies that Jung and other Jungians wrote about have been rich in fantasy and replete with archetypal individuation themes . . . but how have these fantasies been actualized?  What is the real change that individuation brings?  What is its true worth?  Is it just a new, more satisfying belief?  The discovery of a true faith or true tribe?  Or can we say that the individual has actually become more functional, adaptive, capable?

I don't mean to question cases where a more or less broken person finds a way to put themselves back together through psychotherapy.  I mean something more than this sort of important recovery and functionality adjustment, something that truly differentiates the individual from the tribal affiliations they have unconsciously become a product of.

We might, in our newfound cultural consciousness, decide to study Jungianism as a culture of individuation, an experiment in how supposedly individuated people can interact and interrelate socially while doing so consciously.  Do we have any evidence that Jungian culture operates this way?  Regrettably, not much.  There are many indications (as mentioned above) that Jungian cultural has formed unconsciously into an isolated tribal structure that is not fully integrated with modernism but is sustained by the providence of modern wealth.  To the degree that such an assessment of Jungian culture is valid, this would seem to suggest that actual individuation is not typically occurring within the Jungian tribe.  I.e., if our sociality is governed by undifferentiated and unconscious or "primitive" Eros self-organization, then our claims to individuation would appear to be largely fallacious.  Or at least the claims that individuation is socially functional would be brought under extreme scrutiny.

What is much easier to substantiate is that the Jungian culture of individuation uses individuation not as a true organizing principle or program of adaptation but as a central totem to which all the members of the tribe look with wide-eyed idealism (and, I would say, a good bit of unconscious inflation).  It's hard to see individuation as any more than a token deity in our ideology.

Perhaps, after we have come to better understand our own social organizing principles, we will have something more useful to say about other cultures.  I don't think we should give up on thinking about culture (how could we?).  But I believe we should try to recognize how our cultural thinking is much more like self-involved play than that of others who have used other paradigms to investigate cultural phenomena.  As for my own interest in cultural theories, I have been finding it intriguing to wonder how the tribalism of our environment of evolutionary adaptedness is both expressed and thwarted by modern society.  I have also found it interesting to speculate about the development of modernism not as "cultural evolution" but as an inevitable and more or less un-willed and undesired development resulting from "unpredictable" new technologies that ended up radically altering the environment we live in.  The key one being agriculture, which not only refocused human society on technology development but also led to significant increases in population density and the idea (and problem) of excess wealth.  In other words, an unforeseen development of technology radically restructures the environment in which we live . . . displacing us/our instinctual imprinting on the the environment around us.  The birth of dissociation (along with the birth of proto-modernism).

Looked at this way, we can start to speculate about the emergent system of modernism that feeds back into us (culturally constructing our egos) in a dissociating fashion.  That is, we could, as Jungians, attempt to study precisely how and why modernism is in conflict with our instinctive tribalism.  We could more closely study the effects of this dissociation while paying closer attention to our biological/instinctual needs.  How do we live functionally as tribalists in a modern environment?  How do we adapt?

These are avenues I've seen emerging in a future Jungianism, but I think we are far away from this at the moment.  We have a lot of shadow work to do, a lot of reformation.  We need, for instance, to stop thinking of ourselves as so evolved, wise, senexy, etc.  All that Old King stuff.  We do not have a good relationship with the Child, with renewal, with the New King, the filius philosophorum.  It is a figure we recognize, but don't adequately value, at least not on a tribal level.  After all, from a tribal perspective, the Child, as harbinger of change, is a great danger.  If we are too rigid and unconscious of the Child, it can destroy us.  But if we are too oblivious to the realities of change, we can turn the Child into an imprisoned puer, another totem that we ossify through our worship when we should be engaging with it transformatively.


I'll wrap this piece up with a few words regarding complexity and the complex systems theory that is also finding its way into Jungian trends today.  There are some distinct dangers inherent in our embrace of complexity theories . . . and also some wonderful opportunities.

The primary danger of embracing complexity theory's terminology is that the field of complexity theory is still very young and muddled with fringe science and pseudo-science.  The neologistic jargon of the field is something of a pollutant that one hopes will eventually be pared away, leaving a more elegant language of description for complex system phenomena and classification.  Of course, that's asking a lot from any academic field.  And one of the problems with a dream of elegance in complexity theory is that complexity can be studied in many different fields, making the chances of any agreement about how complexity is used across these fields relatively slim.

At this point, psychologists have been adopting terms like "complex dynamic systems", "emergence", and "self-organization" . . . but I think we should be cautious about over-reliance on such ideas, because no one really understands these things very well at this point in time.  Most of the time these terms are employed in talk of psychology, they are little more than name-droppings or placeholders for concepts that have yet to be developed or often times even imagined.  To say that psyche or ego or some psychic factor is "emergent" (and I have used this term myself) means relatively little and adds almost nothing to our understanding of psyche.  We should, I feel, beware of these complexity buzzwords (if we are to uphold a scientific ethic or a true intellectual rigor in our theory-making).

Beware, but not avoid entirely.  Some of the fundamentals of complexity theory are comprehendible, verifiable, and easily observed in systems everywhere (throughout the natural world, for instance).  The phenomenon of emergence is ubiquitous . . . but the "recipe" for emergence is not well understood.  To say (in psychology) that this or that is emergent is no substitute for a definition or analysis of the emergent thing.  Another factor of complexity that is (at least fundamentally) easy to understand and factor into psychological theories is the precondition of massive iteration, the many number of components or interconnections that make a system truly complex.  It is the one most common ingredient in the complexity recipe . . . and nowhere are there so many iterations or component parts as in material nature, in the material universe.  What I feel is most striking about this aspect of complexity is that we cannot wrap our minds around the degree of iterations or interactive components in a complex system.  We cannot, in working memory, think of this many quanta at the same time and are forced to construct reductive paradigms that are meant to represent true complexity.

The most obvious and perhaps important fundamental of complexity as far as its relationship to psychology goes is that we cannot egoically or consciously comprehend complexity for what it is.  We can only symbolize it.  And yet, matter everywhere is engaged in various complex systems . . . and so we live within and among complex systems (and as complex systems).  Yet they are foreign to our intelligence, "unknowable", beyond our conscious comprehension.  We Jungians are in an excellent position to speak about the archetypal fantasies of the representation of complexity . .  and therefore ideally seated to contribute something to the study of complexity in psychology.  We have been observing and analyzing mandalas and other complexity symbols since Jung introduced this practice to us.  That is, we know that complexity is an archetype that has great numinous significance in the human psyche.  Organized complexity, that is.  If the human psyche can be better understood through the study of complex systems, the Jungians should be at the forefront of constructing this relationship.  We have been dealing with complexity as a symbol and psychic phenomenon for decades.  But if we cannot find a credible and scientific way to combine complexity studies and depth psychology, others will surely pass us by in the pursuit of innovation and knowledge.

This points to the next problem complexity presents to psychologists (especially to Jungians).  There is some indication that complex systems produce what appear to be "spooky" phenomena . . . and yet, under analysis, we can see that this spookiness is entirely materialistic.  It only appears spooky because our ego consciousness is over-matched by complexity's iterations and interrelations.  Complexity studies demonstrate that spookiness we might instinctively see as spiritualistic is actually materialistic and scientifically explainable.  As complexity science develops, we may see that complexity (as natural phenomenon) challenges spiritualistic/egoic assumptions and constructions.  And therefore, complexity challenges God (our anthropic construction of God especially).  This challenge is something to keep in mind when we analyze how Jungians react to complexity.  It holds the potential to skew opinions for us by introducing affect that we have not reckoned with or transformed into something egoically functional.  This is, I believe, all the more dangerous and possible because it appears that we have an instinctive affective response to complexity.  I.e., it tends to generate numinous reactions in us . . . and in most of our numinous affects, a definite factor of complexity can be observed (in our perception of the stimulus or numen).

A curmudgeonly materialist like me might even ponder whether complexity could be the materialistic factor behind numinousness and religious feeling in the human experience.  To experience ourselves (our Selves, more specifically) as truly complex organizations or systems always produces numinous affect.  And part of that numinousness is the experience of oneself as non-personal, as a system or organization, as quantum and multiple instead of absolutely whole and indivisible.  This goes equally for our relationality or Eros, our role in a "grand scheme" (i.e., the experience of personality as part of something larger, non-personal, and complexly organized).  These moments of epiphany and/or abaissment du niveau mental in which we suddenly see ourselves as "infinitesimal" are moments in which we see ourselves as belonging to the complexity of a system or systems.  I don't wish to make this idea into anything more grand and definite than it is . . . but the implications of this theory or casual observation are enormous and far-reaching.  Jungians have always embraced the possibility of a spiritualistic universe and never really wrestled with the ethical and spiritual implications of a naturalistic one.  Jungians have never confronted atheism except as a manifestation of "bad rationalism", the affliction of the "small-minded".

On the positive side of complexity theory's introduction to depth psychology (merely a twist of perspective), the introduction of a naturalism or materialism into Jungian thought that also possesses spiritual value could (if indulged at all) lead to a major development in the spirit/matter Coniunctio that has long driven the Jungian imagination.  It would come, though, in a most unexpected (to Jungians) way.  Jungians have always imagined that matter behaved liked and was somewhat equivalent to spirit on some magical (psychoid) level.  The Jungian spiritualistic dream is that materialism will have to give ground to spiritualism.  Nowhere is this dream better expressed than in the Great Jungian Hope of quantum physics . . . but Jung's interests in synchronicity, ESP, and divination (chiefly astrology and the I Ching) also reflect this in less hopeful constructions.  But if spirituality (the numinous) can be seen as complexity plus human affect (to simplify it enormously for the sake of argument, of course), both of which are material phenomena, then the Coniunctio of spirit and matter would have to involve a sacrifice of some selfishness (ego projection) in the spiritualist camp.  I think the excitement of any development toward such a Coniunctio marks a great phase transition for Jungian thinking that should be eagerly examined and discussed . . . but of course, I speak as a materialist who doesn't have to sacrifice as much of my selfish possessiveness on this issue.  (Although, to be fair, I see myself as an "ex-spiritualist" of the Jungian breed who already had to suffer through this sacrifice in order to valuate the Coniunctio at hand).

It will prove a great challenge to the Jungian mindset to see what it cherishes more: its selfishness regarding spiritualism or the "spoils of the Coniunctio".  Since the wrestling match in the Jungian soul will no doubt prove mighty on this issue, I would expect complexity theory to be heavily spiritualized in Jungian use, at least for the time being.  But the advantage of "materializing" Jungian spiritualism is a very practical increase in tribal survivability.  If we can better learn how to valuate matter (by, for instance, seeing that material complexity is inherently numinous for us), we can learn how to focus consciousness on our sociality and the survivability of Jungianism as a tribal movement.  Incorporating some valuated materialism should also help us liaise with the other material sciences that are currently experiencing great leaps and expansions.  In these sciences (like neuroscience and evolutionary biology), there is a great deal more excitement and focus on innovation.  There is newness, potential.  But if we cling to our spiritualisms, we stay in a fixed and dead world that will never have anymore developments or provide any more answers than it does today or did hundreds or thousands of years ago.

Religion is an ancient enterprise, and I doubt it will or can go extinct.  But there are very few indications that the thousands of year old religions we still cling to are legitimate and adaptive responses to modernism.  And as they cannot grow, adapt, evolve, or reorganize (since doing so is heresy), they don't promise a resolution to the Problem of the Modern.  Psychotherapies of all kinds are essentially attempts to provide that resolution through "treatment" or healing of the individual (rather than through mass-prescriptions of Law).  They are modern, individualized substitutes for the large religions of the past.  They seek to provide the same service: helping people live in the world and with their instincts simultaneously.  And they utilize the most ancient religious method of shamanism.  But just as Christians or Muslims or Jews have inherited the tribal neuroses of their religious systems, we modern religionists and products of psychotherapies have our own tribal inheritances to deal with.

The possibility of the scientific method's incorporation into this psychotherapeutic religiosity gives us the potential to continuously revise our religious approaches and to use these refinements to better approximate the reality and materiality of our religious instincts.  We (especially Christians) have long operated on an ethic of belief or faith in a totem deity and his commandments (or in the supposed representation of that deity on earth, the Church).  But in order to better develop religiosity that suits the modern world and the Problem of the Modern, an ethic of knowing rather than belief will have to be embraced (very loosely, believing is about Law and knowing is about the individual).  Early in the history of Christianity, even before its institutionalization in Rome, the Gnostics took a more knowing-oriented approach to religion than the Catholic Church adopted.  And the Gnostics became the first great enemy of the Catholic (or proto-Catholic) Church.  I don't wish to analyze Christian history here, only to propose that the conflict at the core of knowing vs. believing is huge and potentially very bloody.  It is a battle, also, that knowing lost.  Reinstigating a knowing-based religiosity (system of instinct valuation) in a Christianized culture will not be easy, and we remain in a state of distinct polarization between spiritualism and materialism.

The value of Jungianism beyond its tribe will, I suspect, be a matter of its ability to innovate in the synthetic or healing project of a matter-spirit Coniunctio.  That is, it will be a matter of valuating materialism enough to demonstrate that science can find meaning and value in human spirituality.  And the value of Jungianism to its own tribe will be a matter of how well it can find interrelation among various tribes by spearheading such a synthetic project . . . renewing itself in the Other (and hopefully contributing to the renewal of the Other, as well).  I don't mean to imply that it is up to Jungianism to lead this project or that Jungianism is the necessary messiah of such a synthesis of matter and spirit.  I mean merely to say that we have knowledge and data to contribute to such a project and that we better get ourselves involved or we will not, as a tribe, manage to survive.  We will fail to adapt to the modern.
You can always come back, but you can’t come back all the way.

   [Bob Dylan,"Mississippi]