On Technology

I’m reading Volume 9i  of Carl Jung’s Collected Works for my Jungian certification and ran across this today, which relates in part to some of my recent musings about Facebook and other social networking technology:

I put it to the enlightened rationalist: has his rational reduction led to the beneficial control of matter and spirit? He will point proudly to the advances in physics and medicine, to the freeing of the mind from medieval stupidity and–as a well-meaning Christian–to our deliverance from the fear of demons. But we continue to ask: what have all our other cultural achievements led to? The fearful answer is there before our eyes: man has been delivered from no fear, a hideous nightmare lies upon the world. So far reason has failed lamentably, and the very thing that everybody wanted to avoid rolls on in ghastly progression. Man has achieved a wealth of useful gadgets but, to offset that, he has torn open the abyss, and what will become of him now–where can he make a halt?

After the last World War we hoped for reason: we go on hoping. But already we are fascinated by the possibilities of atomic fission and promise ourselves a Golden Age–the surest guarantee that the abomination of desolation will grow to limitless dimensions. And who or what is it that causes all this? It is none other than that harmless (!), ingenious, inventive, and sweetly reasonable human spirit who unfortunately is abysmally unconscious of the demonism that still clings to him. Worse, this spirit does everything to avoid looking himself in the face, and we all help him like mad. Only, heaven preserve us from psychology–that depravity might lead to self-knowledge! [. . .]

It seems to me, frankly, that former ages did not exaggerate, that the spirit has not sloughed off its demonisms, and that mankind, because of its scientific and technological development, has in increasing measure delivered itself over to the danger of possession. True, the archetype of the spirit is capable of working for good as well as for evil, but it depends upon man’s free–i.e., conscious–decision whether the good also will be perverted into something satanic. Man’s worst sin is unconsciousness, but it is indulged in with the greatest piety even by those who should serve mankind as teachers and examples.

When shall we stop taking man for granted in this barbarous manner and in all seriousness seek ways and means to exorcise him, to rescue him from possession and unconsciousness, and make this the most vital task of civilization? Can we not understand that all the outward tinkerings and improvements do not touch man’s inner nature, and that everything ultimately depends upon whether the man who wields the science and the technology is capable of responsibility or not? Christianity has shown us the way, but, as the facts bear witness, it has not penetrated deeply enough below the surface. What depths of despair are still needed to open the eyes of the world’s responsible leaders, so that at least they can refrain from leading themselves into temptation? (para. 454-455)

What Are You Doing?

In depth psychology, we refer to the Wise Old Man as an archetypal figure who is often encountered by the Hero in folk and fairy tales, symbolizing our wiser, self-reflecting selves that have the key to the way out of the problems we get ourselves into. The Wise Old Man often asks questions, because questions are tools for the self-reflective function of the psyche.

“What are you doing?” and “Why are you doing this?” are two of my favorite questions. In the passage of Jung quoted here, Jung is asking the rational man, the scientific and technological man, “What are you doing? What is the result of all your ‘progress?'” and I think these are wonderful questions. Jung shows here that we either use technology or it uses (i.e., ‘possesses’) us. I doubt there is anyone who hasn’t been lured into a deep dive into unconsciousness by the television, the interwebs, the DVR, and realized only later due to the sick feeling in the pit of the stomach that there were better things we might or should have done with our time.

In this way we are no different from our most primitive ancestors who believed in absolute possession by evil spirits. We who are too sophisticated for the idea of possession can’t understand the lure of Facebook, Twitter, or whatever other technologies we use as treatment programs or substances to dull the anxiety of being alive, the tension of the opposites and conflicts we contain, and our terror of the unknown. By looking down on the primitive impulse to fear possession, we overlook our own proneness to it.

Being human, I understand why we are overcome by inertia through our technological temptations. Being also divine, I look at myself with dismay.

16 responses

  1. About 10 years ago, my husband and I put our TV away for Lent. We felt so free, so enlightened. How much time we had to read, surely a far more noble and superior thing than the boob tube.

    Then my husband pointed out that we were just as much escaping from reality into our books as we had done with the TV.

    Damn.

    So, consciousness is the key. I can use a technology to socialize, learn, or work, or I can dull my consciousness with it if I so choose. The moment I pay attention to the fact that I’m dulling myself, I’m conscious again.

  2. I have been helping my sister move and the other night we sat outside her new place around a small fire pit and relaxed watching fire. It struck me that mankind, ever since Prometheus at least, has gathered together around fires whose dance is incredibly mesmerizing and symbolic of the destruction of the old form as it is transformed (transcended) into energy, heat, light, life and death, a little Kali action. To that end, we still gather around the family “fire”, the mesmerizing dance of light and energy, every night, only now that fire has become the television and it has 5.1 surround sound. The symbol has remained only arguably, it serves an expanded, if not different, role, and one might say sinister, than simply that of the fire alone.

    Kevin Kelly writes extensively about technology and some of its implications at http://www.kk.org/thetechnium/ and you may find it interesting. I first heard him being interviewed by Ken Wilber.

    Also, if you have given up trying to combine your personal and professional life on the internet, you may want to consider linkedin for your professional side. While still technically a social networking sight, it has been designed for the professional side of things.

    • You make me wish I could sit around the fire and talk with all my blog friends. I think the television has become a replacement, along with gaming systems and clubbing for the twentysomethings. This is where we tell our stories, if we have any. There seems to be always something interfering with real story-telling and hearing. People seem just that afraid of intimacy. I’m reminded of Anne Wilson Schaef’s book, “When Society Becomes an Addict.” I think we’re there.

      I’ll read Kelly’s stuff. Thank you for the recommendations for him and for Linkedin. Perhaps some day I’ll network professionally when I become one again. ;o) Right now I feel I need a social network for People Who Don’t Fit In Anywhere.

    • Librarian, I’ve just been reading Kevin Kelly. Wow. This guy is amazing! Talk about following one’s own path: this fella functions like an archetype of becoming. Thank you.

  3. Speaking of technology, I followed the link under “possibly related posts” titled “Origins of Psychotherapy II” and was so profoundly depressed by the incredible ignorance displayed there that I felt close to tears. I suppose it’s only fair that technology serves everyone equally, whether they be fools or wise men.

    • David, wow. I too followed the link (thanks for the tip) and was astounded at the author’s ignorance.

      You said you felt close to tears at the incredible ignorance displayed there. I confess that I regularly feel great despair over the ignorance I encounter among people in daily life. Ignorance, unconsciousness, primitive thinking. I learned in my Jungian training that there are only about 3,000 trained Jungian analysts in the world; the rest of the analysts and therapists have boilerplate training (like mine) that can take the client only as far as straightforward behavioral changes on the one hand, or to the psychiatrist’s office and prescription pad on the other. We’re losing our functional wise ones (or have lost them) in the church, and their replacements among the helping professions are not what they were in the day when great thinkers in psychiatry and psychology (James, Freud, Adler, Jung, Rogers etc.) brought us their gifts.

      This is something I’ve been thinking and having feelings about quite regularly. I’m beginning to plumb the depths of loneliness Dr. Hollis warned us about and it’s beating me up and taking my lunch money.

      • I agree with you about the truly great wizards and wisewomen becoming fewer and further between; it is extremely disconcerting. One of the concepts I struggle with around this is the feeling that great wisdom seems to come out of a type of childhood that people don’t have anymore, and which most modern good parents would probably try to prevent a child from having — a childhood marked by isolation, exposure to huge and emotionally violent philosophical ideas, and by painful deprivation of some kind, whether circumstantial or emotional. Our educational system doesn’t promote wrestling with angels at a young age, and our ideas of raising a happy child shy away from that as well.

        Of course it’s no revelation that greatness comes from suffering, but the types of suffering that actually produce wisdom and depth seem to be harder to come by. A lot of suffering now seems to be a loss of faith in humanity due to tortures inflicted by other people, which is more likely to shut a person down completely. The experience of feeling the vastness of the mind and the unfathomable depths of the soul while still in childhood, and becoming deeply curious about it … well, that’s pretty rare.

        On a side note, my mother’s therapist is Carl Rogers’ granddaughter.

        • David, bless you for using the word “wizards.” I feel at home in this discussion. ;o) You bring up such a good point about how modern childhoods don’t offer children the sorts of seedbed one needs for growing selves and, later, wisdom. Coincidentally, late last night I learned that our Christian school is proposing Sunday cheer practices for my daughter. I think I’m the only mother who said we won’t participate.

          The “why” of non-participation goes to the heart of what I believe Jesus was teaching about the sabbath: we need rest. We need reflection. We need time when we are not working, not looking outward all the time, not performing, not being useful. The sabbath is for man, he said, not man for the sabbath, as the religious teachers had come to believe.

          I believe in the sabbath rest as a basic psychological and spiritual need. I have struggled since enrolling my children in school to maintain some semblance of sanity in our family with regard to the constant activity demanded by the schools. I find few folks in favor of childhood any more, including home schooling families who were just as busy as the regular schooled variety of parent.

          Even worse is that I, knowing better, am myself sucked into constant busy-ness as a parent. I have whole weeks that end in despair because I feel I’ve been tricked, once again, by the culture.

          But I know that the culture is really me.

  4. This is me all too often, realising “due to the sick feeling in the pit of the stomach that there were better things we might or should have done with our time.” Like read a book that inspires my imagination.

    I like John’s comment “to be split is to be human.” Too true.

    • I often find the balancing act a challenge, Irene. I think I need “goof off” time when I’m doing nothing productive or meaningful (or nothing at all), but too much leads one to feel an unpleasant sort of inertia. It’s rather like learning when to push oneself away from the holiday table, I guess.

  5. ……all the outward tinkerings and improvements do not touch man’s inner nature, and that everything ultimately depends upon whether the man who wields the science and the technology is capable of responsibility or not……..

    Yes, our wonderful technology is neutral. We can use it for good or evil. Sadly, we use it too often for evil.

    We humans are technological genii (intellect), but emotional primitives (feeling). Not surprising, really, since to be split is to be human.

    That said, I, as a human, wouldn’t be without our wonderful technology.

    • John, “technological genii”–how apt! Well put. Ditto for “emotional primitives.”

      I too appreciate technology. But I also appreciate Jung’s point, which is that modern rational man touts his own sophistication while remaining blind to the primitive nature that uses such advances for regressive or even evil purposes. So unexamined.

  6. We who are too sophisticated for the idea of possession can’t understand the lure of Facebook, Twitter, or whatever other technologies we use as treatment programs or substances to dull the anxiety of being alive, the tension of the opposites and conflicts we contain, and our terror of the unknown.

    I’m by no means too sophisticated. I think possession is a great way to consider lots of states of minds we can get into.

    On another note, will you be writing about Jung’s Red Book at all? I find it so incredibly fascinating and would love to hear your impressions. I’m waiting for my copy in the mail now. One of my friends somehow already got a copy even though Amazon says they aren’t available until Dec.

    I wish I was in your Jungian program right now. What an exciting time!

    • I thought “possession” was a perfect description of the state we moderns can get into, too!

      Yes, when I get into the Red Book I will most surely be writing about it. I have just started reading it… it’s so massive in actual size, and so deep in content that I approach it as I would something explosive, dangerous, or potentially inebriating.

      The reason why Amazon and most everyone else has no copies until December is that the publisher underestimated the demand for the first run. All the first editions are sold out, and so the December printing will be the second one. I was surprised to learn this from the Houston Jung Center’s book store manager last month, and thrilled that I had pre-ordered a copy from Amazon in April, when I first learned of the book’s publication.

      I had to kick myself for my lack of foresight, though; I could have ordered more and sold the first editions on eBay and made a profit off other fans of depth psychology! ;o)

      Finally, I wish you were in the Jungian program, too. It’d be great to learn with someone I knew in any earlier context!

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