[Religious Types 14] Innocents Abroad

12 06 2012

[Previous Post in the Series]

Jungian therapy takes shape and spreads through a century characterized by massive cultural and political shifts. Those shifts see the rise of industrialism on a previously unimagined (perhaps even unimaginable) scale. The sort of adaptations it makes to keep pace with those changes are characteristic of the period more generally. In its growth, we see the alienation of Jung from his own experiences transform into a depersonalized (and depersonalizing) psychology.

There is an irony here. Many proponents of popular Jungian ideas came to them in answer to the depersonalization of the modern industrial world. However, I suspect the appeal popular Jungian thought has lies precisely in the way it has been fully integrated into modernity. It is not so much an alternative to it, but an alternative within it.

In case it is unclear, these popular forms are not independent of, or external to, the practice of Jungian psychology. The popularity of them helped fuel interest in Jungian therapy, which in turn shaped the direction taken by Jungian therapy, in the U.S. at least. One has but to take a look at the work of June Singer’s writing as evidence of this. On the one hand, we have quite practical and straightforward accounts of Jungian therapy that capture well its insight, like Boundaries of the Soul, while on the other we have later works like Seeing through the Visible World that attempt to integrate Jungian therapy to New Age-y adoptions of Rupert Sheldrake’s morphic resonance.

This has led to a form of Jungian discourse that treats the tradition, the specific ways in which forms are preserved, as little more than superficial variations on a common theme. Each tradition is examined only so long as it takes to establish the correspondence of a few of its most prominent elements to the categories established by Jung (or some basic variation upon them). Thus do we have a slew of people looking for tricksters, heroic cycles, and mother goddesses everywhere they go. For these bearers of Jung’s wisdom, all there is to learn is what they already knew.

It is a form of tourism and rooted in the same dynamics of industrial mobility. Moreover, like tourism, it exerts a kind of distorting force on the places and work it visits. Just as Jungian therapy adjusted toward the self-help/spiritual movements, so, too, participants of studied traditions lean toward its tourists, intellectual and actual. The promise of prestige and resources makes a compelling case for adopting these sorts of pattern.

So, instead of morphic resonance mysteriously proliferating archetypes in the coming global consciousness, we find plain old cultural economics, with technology and economic inequality facilitating the rapid proliferation of certain patterns from the center toward its economic periphery. The lack of awareness of this process on the part of the agents who carry these models doesn’t hinder this process at all; it helps it. The invisibility allows its agents to share the models in good will and sincerity. That lack of awareness operates, at least in part, according to the typic patterns that apply to all communities, industrial and non-industrial. The difference is more of scale an intensity rather than quality or kind. Technology suppresses the influence of local ecologies and joins locales into translocal places.

The more firmly integrated a locale becomes in the network of industrialism, the more likely its cultural forms are to be co-opted by them. There are several factors at work. As a community becomes more industrial, it becomes more integrated into the time of industrial production, with its long work days, and into industrial space, with its distribution of people for efficiency. The time of a local community, adapted to the ecological system that industrialism elides, is similarly elided. New forms of community suited to this life emerge and are endorsed by that ‘swing vote’ of Extroverted Feeling and Intuition. Soon enough, a whole new mode of Introverted Sensation emerges alongside it.

It’s worth noting that these new forms of industrial life aren’t exactly identical from locale to locale. They bear within themselves the traces of the earlier communal forms that they replaced since it is those very forms that Introverted Intuition refashions. Moreover, while technology can diminish the role of the local environment, it can’t erase it. The forms of life developed to suit local ecologies retain some applicability even to those entrenched in industrial life. The industrial forms of the center play a more powerful role, though, since it is from the center’s industrial culture that the local industrial culture derives its resources and powers. Think, for a moment, about the business suit. While it takes shape in the European center, it has become an international form, a marker of a translocal and industrial way of life.

By appealing to translocal forms (‘archetypes’), much Jungian discourse emphasizes the industrial dimension of experience at the cost of the local forms. Since Jungian thought emerges at the European center (and adapts to the U.S. center that replaces it) and attempts to understand the psyche based on a common rubric of images (anima, animus, senex, etc.), the forms it supports at best bear the traces of the European locales. The application of these forms to understand the locales of the periphery ends up further eliding and suppressing the ecological dimensions of those local forms. It is along this trajectory that we find industrialism proliferating forms that are poorly suited to local ecologies, endorsing strategies for living that can only be supported for short times without creating damage to the ecologies and all those living within them.

I’m not blaming Jungian discourse for these failures, but emphasizing the dependence of many of its concepts upon the forms of life that produce these failures. I am not trying to imply that this applies to all Jungian discourse or that all of Jung’s thought is simply irredeemably colonial-industrialist. I hope many readers will notice that I am using a Jungian concept, psychological type, to explore the way in which other Jungian concepts (collective unconscious, universal archetypes) have participated in this process. My goal is not to abandon or dismiss Jung and his legacy, but to extract from it what is most valuable and useful and find how that can be used to re-examine and perhaps even reform what is problematic.

That has been behind the scenes so far, but in the next post I want to bring it into the foreground. I want to sort through why I find Jung’s psychological types so powerful a tool and why I find his model of the collective unconscious so problematic. In doing so, I want to trace out a rough outline for the genesis of cultural archetypes and the possibility of applying Jung’s thought broadly without eliding local concerns.

[Next Post in the Series: Generality vs. Universality]




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