Quotes of the Week (May 12, 2020)

This week’s quotes are from Carl Jung’s Dream Analysis Seminars, a transcription of seminars from 1928-1930.

• He tries to be terribly righteous, and only those who have the ability or the tendency to be very wrong try to be so very right, to attain perfection; when people try to be abnormally good, something is trying to go absolutely wrong.

• It is an interesting fact that in several Gnostic systems, the definition of saviour is ‘the maker of boundary lines,’ the one that gives us a clear idea of where we begin and where we end.

• The main fear of the unconscious is that we forget who we are.

• The more unconscious children are, the more they are under the influence of the collective unconscious, or they may absorb the unconscious problems of their parents… the dreams of children belong to the most interesting phenomena of analytical psychology.

• Analysis is analogous to confession, and confession has always been collective and ought to be collective; it is not done for oneself alone but for the sake of collectivity, for a social purpose. One’s social conscience is in trouble and forces one to confess; through sin and secrecy one is excluded, and when one confesses one is included again.

• This hiding away from friends destroys society; secrecy is anti-social, destructive, a cancer in our society.

• Thus human society will be built anew, after the seclusion of the Protestant age, on the idea of universally recognized truth.

• Since he doesn’t enter your sphere with the onslaught of a real person, since he doesn’t arouse a psychic vortex in your mental atmosphere, he is probably merely an image which has to do with yourself alone.

• A community is an organism, a symbiosis, and we form a sort of organism here while thinking together; and if anything disturbing happens within this organism, some mind receives the disturbance and says,”Look out!” In the primitive community, it would be the mind of the chief or the medicine man.

• Only domesticated animals misbehave; a wild animal never misbehaves, it follows its own natural law; there is no such thing as a good tiger that only eats apples and carrots!

• This is the reason why some men dislike to have women on committees, etc — they have no proper connection with the feminine part of their own psychology.

• The East bases much of its science on this irregularity and considers coincidences as the reliable basis of the world rather than causality. Synchronism is the prejudice of the East; causality is the modern prejudice of the West… Remember that the oldest Chinese scientific book is about the possible chances of life.

• Only in the Middle Ages did we learn to think logically — and then through religious teachers. The primitives did not possess logical thinking, simply because they could not produce the same kind of abstract reasoning which we can produce. There must have been a long period of time before our minds were trained to produce an abstract condition of mind over and against the temptations of the senses or emotions.

• Very often the end of a dream can teach one something; at the end something has usually happened to the figures that appeared on the stage, so that the situation at the beginning and the events between are quite explicable.

• There are situations in which we cannot afford to admit the truth, it may go too much against our own interests…

• If one looks at what is before one’s eyes one is unaware of what is behind one’s back; one cannot be conscious of everything in a given moment. To be conscious one must be concentrated; one is always conscious of something specific.

• There is not one thing in our civilization that has not first been in the imagination, in fantasy; even houses and chairs have first existed in the imagination of the architect or designer.

• If you get rid of qualities you don’t like by denying them, you become more and more unaware of wha you are; you declare yourself more and more non-existent, and your devils will grow fatter and fatter.

Our beautiful, barely functioning world

Lakeside Village of Hallstatt

When the U.S. bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 1999, billed as a tragic mistake in the middle of NATO’s bombing of Serbia, an inside source commented on the U.S.’s struggle to explain themselves:

“The reality is that in the U.S. government two things coexist: on one hand there is magnificent technology, including stealth bombing, laser target pinpointing and in-air refueling; on the other hand, there is a guy in a basement reading the sports section while eating a powered donut and sipping from a big-splurge Slurpee. In between bites, he is picking out a target to be bombed in a city he has never visited.” (Managing Sino-American Crises, p. 338-339)

Nine years and one president earlier, when the U.S. sought to respond to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, we similarly struggled:

“The U.S. Navy was almost totally lacking in minesweepers, a potentially fatal weakness. The United States had to borrow minesweepers from Britain and Italy. [In addition,] American logistics capacity to move troops to shore was strained. President Bush had to commandeer commercial airliners, rent cargo ships, and call up the reserves. Once on shore, the United States possessed little equipment designed for desert warfare. The sharp run-up in the price of Mine Safety Appliance and Survival Technology stock reflected the lack of gas masks to counter Iraqi chemical weapons.” (The Great Reckoning, p.228)

In our current state, the world watches as the U.S. struggles to handle the COVID-19 crisis. When do things get handled? I think things get handled either when there is a crisis (e.g. shit, we accidentally bombed the Chinese embassy) or desperate need (e.g. we need military equipment), or when there is another incentive to do so. Sometimes beautiful buildings get build, for example, even though there is not a need. A desire will do, if there is the means.

But the obvious problem with incentive-based systems is that there are lapses in the functioning of things, especially when there are incentives (e.g. financial) against things being handled in a good and straightforward way, or simply if there hasn’t been a strong enough incentive to do things “right.” How do we correct these incentive problems?

Traditionally, morality and ideals have been the way to manage these cases where an individual is incentivized to do something that goes against a group. Things get handled at a higher level if people all feel motivated and compelled to behave honorably, for example. Our material problems aren’t purely a result of material mismanagement. They are a result of moral mismanagement. In a world that is too pragmatic, we follow incentive gradients to unfortunate and unnecessary places–compare the beauty of Alpine villages to California’s strip-mall chic.

“What is necessary?” is a different question than “What is worth doing?”

The search for a coherent worldview

As the world turns its attention to COVID-19, a surprising resource has com back onto the table—that is, the capacity for many people in the world to come to a shared understanding of what is going on. In this case, it is simply: a pandemic is here.

In my reading over the last few years I have encountered authors who share in the act of contributing to a similar shared resource: not just constructing any worldview, but constructing a coherent worldview that explains why the major pieces of the world exist. These authors attempt to offer a worldview of sense, beauty and kindness. They teach people how to interpret the world. In particular, they take aspects of the world that remain mysterious to common sensibilities and they tell a story that explains the shape of that part of the world. Carl Jung offers explanations of the unity of psychology, anthropology and history. Hendrik Willem van Loon explains to me history and art. William Rees-Mogg explains economics and power. Armed with these unities, the world can make sense again.

Sense: this under-appreciated resource becomes so precious in times of chaos. What is going on? What should people do? The market for coherent worldviews is overrun with profiteers and power-mongers. But when things are truly high stakes, it is revealed once again that there are fundamentals that remain in place, fundamentals that people can learn from and pay attention to. The world can make sense. You just have to take a stab at the complicated jigsaw puzzle that it has become.