Tag Archives: collective unconscious

Thomas Mann Offered Prophetic Word to the U.S. in 1947

Literature can be a portal into the human soul.  As the current political and cultural drama continues to unfold in my country, it has been so interesting to stumble across observations from ancient…and not so ancient…cultures whose insights were so relevant to what is unfolding now in the American psyche.  The human soul is constant.  It never changes.  Oh yes, the historical moment changes but the human response to circumstances of any moment always reveal common themes.  Here I wish to share a lengthy excerpt from Thomas Mann’s 1947 novel, “Dr. Faustus,” which is very relevant to present day America:

We are lost…the war is lost; but that means more than a lost campaign, it means that in very truth WE are lost: our character, our cause, our hope, our history.  It is all up with Germany, it will be all up with her.  She is marked down for collapse, economic, moral, political, spiritual, in short all-embracing, unparalleled, final collapse.  I suppose I have not wished for it, this that threatens, for it is madness and despair.  I suppose I have not wished for it because my pity is too deep, my grief and sympathy are with this unhappy nation, when I think of the exaltation and blind ardour of its uprising, the breaking out, the breaking up, the breaking down, the purifying and fresh start, the national new birth of ten years ago, that seemingly religious intoxication—which then betrayed itself to any intelligent person for what it was by its crudity, vulgarity, gangsterism, sadism, degradation, filthiness, ah how unmistakably it bore within itself the seeds of this whole war!  My heart contracts painfully at the thought of that enormous investment of faith, zeal, lofty historic emotion; all this we made, all this is now puffed away in a bankruptcy without compare.  No, I surely did not want it, and yet—I have been driven to want it, I wish for it today and will welcome it, out of hatred for the outrageous contempt of reason, the vicious violation of truth, the cheap, filthy backstairs mythology, the criminal degradation and confusion of standards, the abuse, corruption, and blackmail of all that was good, genuine, trusting, and trustworthy in our old Germany.  For liars and lickspittles mixed us a poisonous draft and took away our senses.  We drank—for we Germans perennially yearn for intoxication—and under its spell, through years of deluded high living, we committed a superfluity of shameful deeds, which now must be paid for…with with despair.  (Thomas Mann, “Dr. Faustus”)


Marginality, Boundaries, & Racism

Marginality is a commonly used term in modern culture, referring to pushing certain people into the “margins” of our social body because of reasons that often amount to the simple fact they are “different.”  And I’m glad this term is on the table as it has produced such abysmal ugliness in our culture as racism, misogyny, homophobia, and xenophobia.

But here I want to emphasize the importance of margins even in the face of their common gross misuse.  These margins I’m speaking of are merely boundaries and without boundaries an individual, or a group of individuals, cannot cohere.  Boundaries, in the social terms I’m speaking of here, are at root the ability to draw the distinction between self and not-self, between “me and thee.”  The ability to draw this distinction is one of the most important phases of our development and only to the degree we have done this will we be able to function in society with some degree of success.

However, when this distinction-drawing has gone awry and is overly valued, the emphasis of boundaries will be excessive and the result will be an excessive push to marginalize people who are different.  This problem stems from existential insecurity as those whose grounding in reality, in the inner-most depths of their being, will find themselves overly emphasizing who is “them” and who is “us.”  Let me illustrate with the simple illustration of the immigration issue in my country.  Immigration policy is a legitimate and even moral need for the welfare of a tribe.  But when social tension is pronounced, often by socio-economic pressures, a matter like immigration policy will become a political football and rather than be resolved will be endlessly quarreled about. In present day, it gives rise to cries like “Build that wall” and “Keep those Mexicans out” which often amounts to nothing more than overt racism rather than the simple and legal right to set a boundary and control who can enter our country.  The foolishness of this “Build that Wall” cry was demonstrated with another Republican Presidential candidate, Scott Walker, responded immediately to Trump’s suggestion with notion of building a wall between the U.S. and Canada also!  “Trump got a lot of applause, so I’ll say the same thing,” Walker must have thought!

We are not rational human beings.  Never have been and never will be.  We are human beings driven primarily by emotion and our reason is subservient to these emotions.  That does not mean we deserve the label “irrational”…necessarily…it just means that our reasoning must be taken with a grain of salt, thus allowing for other perspectives.  Cooperation and dedication toward a common good would then be possible.  But it is easier to just go along with unexamined prejudices, biases and premises about life, giving to them by drawing distinctions rigidly when they could be drawn more graciously.


Two other blogs of mine are listed here which I invited you to check out:




The “Donald Trump Show” Wreaking Havoc!!!

My immersion in the work of Carl Jung has led to an increased sensitivity to the murmurs from my unconscious depths.  I catch myself often seeing…and feeling…responses to stimuli in my world that I once would have not noticed.  For example, last week I was watching the daily “Donald Trump Show” that has exploded on my country’s political and cultural scene and caught myself wanting to say “atta boy” as he trotted out his usual falderal that is always delightful “red meat” for the rabid base of his Republican Party. For example, he offers a steady diet of juicy themes like “I’m the only one who has the courage to stand up to ‘them’” or “I’ll build a wall to keep out them there Mexicans…and make’em pay for themselves” or “I’ll make American great again” or denigrating Washington politicians as “stupid.”

His message speaks to the unconscious of voters who feel they are losing control, that their country is losing control and losing the prominence that it deserves, and that “we need a leader who will tell the truth and will ‘get something done.’”  And all of these desires are noble human desires but only when taken in context and fulfillment is sought while respecting others who might suffer as a result of their accomplishment.  But I noted my heart’s response to say “amen” in response to the primary thing his message offers—certainty!  My country…like the rest of the world…is still trying to come to terms with the flow of history and accept that the “certainties” of yesteryear need to be modified.  But some part of my heart, still listening to the reptilian brain’s insistence that my ego can be in control….can be “God”…and wants that certainty.

And this Trump message strikes right at the heart of fundamentalist Christianity which drives the base of the Republican party without which they would not be able to win anything.  But, speaking for myself…and in spite of those unconscious murmurs…there is a rudimental dimension of my fundamentalist faith of yesteryear that is not only surviving the lack of certainty but is discovering that it is thriving.  For, now in place of certainty, I find faith and hope welling up.  But I will admit it would be simpler and easier if I could just go back to the past and have confidence that my mindless…and heartless…regurgitation of dogma was sufficient.

Trump has the Republican establishment shaking in its booties.  For Trump is behaving like an enfant terrible and putting on the table what the GOP establishment wants to be kept beneath the surface because it is ‘unsavoury” to most of the American electorate.  For example, the racism and misogyny that is glaring in the Republican agenda is openly voiced by Trump while the GOP establishment stands helplessly by and cringes.  It is almost like Trump is embodying Tourette’s Syndrome for the Grand Old Party and saying the things that everyone is thinking but civility and decorum does not permit to be said.

“Waging the Collective War We Are”

W. H. Auden’s observation, “We wage the war we are” also applies to human collectives. Carl Jung eloquently described the “collective unconscious,” one example seen often in mob psychology where otherwise law-abiding people can have subterranean demons stirred up to the point of violent behavior. And sociologists and anthropologists…and other social scientists…are adept at delineating how our connection with social groups influences our behavior much more than we ever would like to acknowledge. Psychologist Jonathan Haidt has very interesting recordings on YouTube and TedTalks in which he shows evidence that my “firm conviction” to be a liberal Democrat is not without unconscious motivation just as Conservative Republicans are also driven by similar needs.

Even the species as a whole can be compared to an individual child, still early in development, struggling to integrate fragmented impulses into a working, harmonious whole. Just in my lifetime, with technological advances like computers and the internet, our world is so much “smaller,” so much more a “whole”, and we are so very near, yet so very far, to being able to come much closer to world peace and harmony than ever before. We have the means, but lack the will. And I recently came across someone who pointed out the “coincidence” that terrorism has emerged as a formless (i.e. “stateless”) expression of the violent dimensions of our collective unconscious. Jung would say that our collective unconscious is telling us that all of our accomplishments deriving from our conscious need for structure and organization, are finding their complement in the chaos of violence. It is as if our collective unconscious is reminding us, “Oh yes. Technology and progress is great. But it comes by sublimating repressed violent impulses and these violent impulses need to be given attention.” The goal is to continue to seek meaning and coherence in our world while simultaneously acknowledging and addressing the violent unconscious impulses that are within us all. And this can be done through sublimation such as with religion, literature, art and mythology. But I issue a caveat re religion—“Danger, danger Will Robinson.” For religion can easily become just another form of violence as we see so often today.