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.